Statistics Are a Two-edged Sword

Many of us like to support our assertions with statistics. And that can be a good thing–or not. It depends on the credibility of your source AND your interpretation of what the statistics represent.

For example, the other night as I was driving to teach my college class, I heard the teaser about an upcoming story on public radio that the housing market was improving in the Twin Cities’ market. Immediately following that teaser, the announcer said, “The news isn’t good for housing sales in the Twin Cities.”

What? Can something be both good and not good?

Well, yes, depending on the statistic you use to make your point.

Why they said the housing market was improving is that the average selling price of a house in the Twin Cities was $182,000 for June 2010, up about $5,000 from June 2009.

Why they said the news wasn’t good is that for June 2010, signed purchase agreements were down 40 percent from June 2009.

Thus, depending on which statistic you used, you could make a case for the housing marketing having good news or bad news.

Here are some things to consider when including statistics in your writing.

  • Understand that your credibility is on the line.
  • Use statistics only from resources your reader will consider credible.
  • Determine what you want your statistics to reveal so you select the right ones.
  • Be aware that statistics are easily manipulated–especially percentages. For example, our son coaches high school basketball, and in the beginning, his team won the very first  game it played. I told him he could quit coaching and tell everyone he won 100 percent of his games. Of course, that’s ridiculous to do, but statistics would have supported that assertion.
  • Use statistics to set up concepts you want your reader to get. For example, if you want your reader to see we aren’t out of the housing foreclosure woods yet, you can cite statistics that reveal the latest foreclosure numbers, along with the latest unemployment figures, and make a connection that people without paychecks are at risk of losing their homes.

Statistics are a two-edged sword, so be careful you don’t cut your credibility when you use them.

Happy writing!


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