Wield Your Statistics

They’re tools.

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.

Batting Stance

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.

Half Glass
  • 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.

Half Glass
  • A mere 50%
  • As low as 50%
  • Has sunk to 50%
  • Regret to admit we have achieved only 50%
  • At 50%, an awful compromise

Real-life example.

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. 

  1. 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.
  2. Shockingly, the infertility rate for African-American women between 18 and 45 is higher than for women in many of the wealthiest African countries.
  3. The infertility rate has skyrocketed to 10% for all American women 18 to 45, even higher for African-Americans.
  4. 10% of American women between 18 and 45—more for African-Americans—who attempt to conceive, experience infertility to some degree.
  5. Though African-Americans lag behind by a few points, American women who wish to become pregnant have achieved a remarkable 90% fertility rate.

13 Responses to Wield Your Statistics

  1. g903254 says:

    Statistics and how to use them.
    They’re tools for humans to use within arguments

    a common thing for good writers is to face forward, adopt a stance which is comfortable to you, to be properly equipped to face your opposition, deliver with confidence, and know how to use your statistics properly.

    you can spin statistics in many ways. 50% for example could be seen as good or horrendous. You put the spin in as to convince your audience of one thing or another.

    This sentence is useless because we have no frame which to see whether or not this number is to be expected, high, low, or anywhere in between.


    “Just passed Scenic views” is a problem as there was no notification to scenic views.

    Its highly counterintuitive to see that those who abstain from GMO foods that they haven’t done any research. You would think that those who actively remove something from their diet that they would have done some research, but we find that those who do do research end up eating GMO’s more than those who haven’t done any research.

    We probably haven’t been keeping up with our white papers, but a more complete white paper will help with the annotated bibliography for our portfolio’s.

    • davidbdale says:

      Thanks for posting here, G. I have amended the Agenda for today’s class so that it now accepts Replies. Please copy and paste this entry to 21 Class WED APR 10. Thanks. –DSH

  2. nousernamefound1 says:

    5 and 2.
    I feel like both sentences are making readers become mislead. They produce bad numbers or irrelevant numbers to the readers. Number 5 does not have to be stated to make this paper become better. In recent sentences we can see that African Americans are struggling behind. In number 2, why compare African Americans to other African countries? I thought we was talking about women that’s American and African-Americans. This is weird because we are saying that African Americans are not Americans in this case.

  3. hazelnutlatte123 says:

    Sentence number 5 is the useless sentence because it includes extra words that do not contribute to the argument of this paper. The beginning of the sentence does not need to be there to describe the statistics that the writer is trying to explain. By saying “Though African-Americans lag behind by a few points…” the writer is giving a statement that is more opinionated and does not correlate with the rest of the sentence that states, “American women who wish to become pregnant have achieved a remarkable 90% fertility rate.” The two statements are completely irrelevant to each other.

  4. rowanstudent2 says:

    2 – It compares the infertility rate of African-American women to women in other African countries, yet the other sentences compare African-American women infertility rate to American women infertility rate. Also, it includes the word “wealthiest” indicating that the African-American women don’t have as much money, but that has nothing to do with the point the author is trying to make. The point is to compare the infertility rate between American women and African-American women.

  5. pomegranate4800 says:

    2. This sentence is kind of all over the place. After reading it, I was confused. What is the point in comparing African American women to women in other African countries? It also seems redundant to add in the fact that the infertility rate is higher than the rate in the wealthier African countries. What does wealth have to do with it?

  6. mysterylimbo says:

    Number 5 & 2 lack details. Number 5 is saying they’re 90% fertile and that’s not really saying whether or not that goes. Same with number 2 it is kind of all over the place not really talking about the effects of infertility of African American women.

  7. nina525 says:

    Statement 5 is the useless sentence in the exercise. In the other statements, the writer is separating the differences between African American Women and American Women. The statement does not contribute or help the topic. the author suggested that AfricanAmerican women are “a few points behind” which shows a opinionated side of the writer.

  8. jets1313 says:

    5 and 2. % does not explain what what is being stated. We do not know what points mean therefor we can not understand and make sense of the sentence. 2 includes useless information like the wealthiest African counties. The wealth of a country has nothing to do with the infertility rate.

  9. chavanillo says:

    4 and 2. This questions doesn’t make sense for me. American Women could be African American and whats the point of contrasing women of the same rase?

  10. doorknob9 says:

    Sentence 5 is the useless sentence because it covers a sort of irrelevant aspect of the topic. The writer goes on to discuss American women and their 90% fertility rate and how African American women are a few points behind, both things being sort of irrelevant.

  11. yourfavoriteanon says:

    2- Sentence 2 talks about African American’s experiencing infertility more than wealthy African countries but there’s no context about wealthy African countries

  12. daphneblake25 says:

    Sentence number four states: 10% of American women between 18 and 45—more for African-Americans—who attempt to conceive, experience infertility to some degree.

    This sentence is the one that lacks proper statistical support because as we discussed in class, the data leaves the guessing up to the reader. The reader decides if the information is large or small which means they indicate if the stat is important or not. A good use of the sentence would declare if the stat was high or low from the beginning.

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