« Writers Guild plans to strike Monday | Main | Controversy over Hamline students blackface costumes »

On numbers

In the Washington Post’s article on a recent poll of Americans that found them to be, according to the lead, “deeply pessimistic and eager for a change in direction,? numbers are key to proving the writer’s points. Poll results are represented as percentages (“24 percent think the nation is on the right track?), fractions (“three-quarters said they want the next president to chart a course that is different than that pursued by Bush?) and ratios (“almost seven in 10 see a recession as likely over the next year?). The varied usage of these three ways of expressing essentially the same statistic seem to be an attempt on the writer’s part to create a more varied story with less “drag.? The numbers, which take up much of the content of the story, don’t become overwhelming. The fact that numbers with relevant relationships are clustered together, making for good flow and easier digestion of the stats. There is not apparent sign of “number crunching? by the writer – the numbers from the poll offer a pretty straight-forward way of dealing with them. All the numbers came from the same source, that being a Washington Times-ABC News poll, with this source acknowledged straight-away in the lead. Further poll details are relegated to the last paragraph of the story, where the sampling amount and margin of sampling error are given. It seems to me that such important information should be given higher priority and placed higher in the story. On the Web article, you have to click to and read through the third page to find it. Shouldn’t we be told sooner how many people’s opinions the poll represents and the margin of error?

Washington Post:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/11/03/AR2007110301306.html?sid=ST2007110400561