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Posted By: paulajw
Posted On: November 24, 2014


by Tom Hibbs

Numbers give weight to data stories as Journalist Works students learned after a workshop by the Royal Statistical Society.

Richard Parker and Yue Zhang explained how understanding and breaking down numbers when dealing with data help journalists tell the story.


Here are three ways they explained how to explain the NHS budget.

1 Explain large numbers by spreading the figures across the population.

When asked what the annual budget of the NHS was the response from students was varied, with some going for something as small as a couple of million pounds to something as large as ÂŁ10 billion

When breaking down the NHS budget consider the amount given to each person a week and that gives a more realistic picture of ÂŁ1billion.

2 Consider the scale of the figures you are dealing with and whether it skews data.

One of the examples given was a chart showing the amount of patents registered in Japan, the USA and China.

The three figures were shown inside graphic light bulbs to represent the eureka moment of an invention.

China’s patent acceptance rate stood at 24% with Japan’s twice that at 48%.

Based on that data it would make sense for the Japan light bulb to be twice as large as the China bulb.

In reality Japan’s was about three times the size of China’s.

3 Be aware of random factors

An exercise relating to a speed camera being placed on a road and the amount of accidents on that road.

Students were asked to roll two dice with the number equalling the number of accidents on the road, the one with the most got the speed camera put on it, sound logic.

They were then asked to roll again to show the amount of accidents that were still happening on the roads.

As could be predicted the results varied greatly from the first roll with one seeing a jump from just two accidents to ten.

This activity was to show the issues with basing something concrete (the speed camera) on something random (the accidents).