Statistics without direction and velocity are useless. They’re a bag of balls, or a rack of bats, blunt as a hockey puck or flabby as an under-inflated football. Pick your own silly analogy, but remember this: having them is pointless if you don’t know how to use them.
We all handle them differently.
Among the many approaches for handling statistics, you’ll find one that makes you comfortable, but some essentials are common to all good writers: they face forward, adopt a comfortable stance, stare down the opposition, deliver with confidence, and know how to use spin.
My number is a good number.
Readers need to be told how your number compares to the range of possible numbers. The statistic by itself means nothing until you place it into context.
- A full 50%
- As high as 50%
- Has improved to 50%
- Proud to announce we have achieved 50%
- At 50%, the perfect balance
My number is a bad number.
Except for experts in the field of your endeavor, your readers are at your mercy to interpret the value of the numbers you share. They count on you to guide them to an understanding of the importance of the evidence you present.
- A mere 50%
- As low as 50%
- Has sunk to 50%
- Regret to admit we have achieved only 50%
- At 50%, an awful compromise
Michelle Obama on her book tour is talking frankly about infertility. The news announcer putting Obama’s miscarriage and subsequent worries into context shared these facts:
- Approximately 10% of American women between 18 and 45 who attempt to conceive, experience infertility to some degree.
- The percentage is higher for African-American women.
I have no idea whether those numbers are higher or lower than I should have expected, and the announcer was no help. She could have used the statistics in any of several ways to help me understand.
Find the useless sentence.
Though these sentences below are contradictory and entirely fictional, all but one serve a clear rhetorical purpose.
MINOR IN-CLASS TASK: Find the useless sentence in the list below. Identify it by number in the Reply space, explain what’s wrong with it, and pledge to purge any sentences like it from your work.
- Modern medicine and Americans’ overall health have reduced the infertility rate to 10% for American women, though sadly the rate is higher for African-Americans.
- Shockingly, the infertility rate for African-American women between 18 and 45 is higher than for women in many of the wealthiest African countries.
- The infertility rate has skyrocketed to 10% for all American women 18 to 45, even higher for African-Americans.
- 10% of American women between 18 and 45—more for African-Americans—who attempt to conceive, experience infertility to some degree.
- Though African-Americans lag behind by a few points, American women who wish to become pregnant have achieved a remarkable 90% fertility rate.
I believe that the sentence that is useless is number 5. This is because rather than emphasizing how many women experience infertility, it highlights the 90% of women that have successful pregnancies. This is not very good for your argument.
#4 because it does not explain whether or not the percentage has been on the rise or decline or any other context to this statistic
I believe that the useless sentence in this exercise is number 5. This is because although it gives a statistic it does not explain much about it, for example, with some of the other sentences we got an age range.
5. Though African-Americans lag behind by a few points, American women who wish to become pregnant have achieved a remarkable 90% fertility rate.
I would say number 5 is the most useless because it is only just pointing out how African-American women lag behind and it tries to turn a negative into a positive.
4. 10% of American women between 18 and 45—more for African-Americans—who attempt to conceive, experience infertility to some degree.
There’s no argument being made. All I’m receiving is the information being presented and the goal is to highlight the racial disparity is disregarded by the author itself.
4, does not express any specifics or if the 10% is a good number or a bad number
#5. “Though African-Americans lag behind by a few points, American women who wish to become pregnant have achieved a remarkable 90% fertility rate.”
First of all, the African American statistic is wasted in the beginning with a nonchalant claim that diminishes its power. Then the writer conveys the 10% infertility statistic as a 90% FERTILITY statistic. To the reader this makes it look like since the fertility rate is so high, the infertility rate is insignificant.
The wrong sentence would be the second one because it doesn’t show how much it has changed, just has a claim with no statistics. The fourth sentence doesn’t show whether it’s a negative or positive statement, the “to some degree” diminishes the importance of the statement said.
The day’s riddle was more straightforward than the last one. The soccer penalty kick explains the mechanics and odds of penalty kicks in elite level soccer. It then asks the reader to determine what is the best statistical odds of scoring and why real professional players tend not to use it.
The section, “Rewrite advice”, gives examples of how an argument in favor of fighting in hockey can be re-written to be stronger. Conveying the author’s arguments in bold, clear language makes it more appealing and presents the same information more authoritatively. Additionally, being sure to include specific claims and evidence rather than hinting at or alluding to evidence is key as well. Finally, a direct attack on the flawed arguments of the opposition rounds out an argument well.
The following section, “writing advice”, covered the proper deployment of statistics and the “Fails for Grammar”. Importantly, statistics are only useful if the reader has a frame of reference. The “Fails for Grammar” section covers 14 different common grammar mistakes to watch out for. The ones voted on by the class will be reviewed on tuesday.
I think number four is useless because I feel the sentence does not really show whether or not the statistic is considered to be high or low.
Sentence two is the useless sentence among the five given. There is a claim given, but the claim isn’t a bold claim as the rest of the sentences are.
I believe that #5 is useless, since they stated that 90% of women have successful pregnancies, never stating the 10% that don’t making the argument weak because the point wasn’t very clear.
MINOR IN-CLASS TASK: Find the useless sentence in the list below.
#5…Though African-Americans lag behind by a few points, American women who
wish to become pregnant have achieved a remarkable 90% fertility rate.
This sentence tells use nothing about African-American statistics, only American women. It also is very vague, what kind of American women?
Sentence 4 feels the most useless because it doesn’t really make any claims that would shape a readers views one way or another. It kind of just states the fact without any kind of direction as to where it’s trying to go.
Number 4 is a useless sentence because the audience only gets percentage for the infertility American women but then fails to mention by how much more of percentage compare to African American women.
I think the useless sentence is sentence #4 because we do not know if that 10% of American women experiencing infertility is a good number or a bad number. There is no context around that percentage telling us if that is what we would expect or not. Also, we are not told the percentage of African American women who experience infertility, it is just stated that the number is higher than American women, but we do not know how much higher that percentage actually is since it was never stated.
#2 is useless, it mentions that women in wealthy African countries have a higher fertility rate than African-American women. It doesn’t mention how much higher, the fertility rate for the average American woman, or why that should be shocking. It seems like they are trying to compare the infertility rates of black women, however they compare them to women of all races living in wealthy African countries, rather than black women specifically.
Sentence 4 provides the same disappointing material the announcer provided me during the interview. I got no sense of whether a 10% infertility rate was higher or lower than I should have expected. I was seeking guidance—or at least, spin!—of the sort all the other sentences (1, 2, 3, and 5) provide. They all put the numbers into context.
1: “reduced the infertility rate to 10%”
2. “Shockingly higher”
3. “the rate has skyrocketed to 10%”
5. “a 90% fertility rate.”