Statistics Lies Assessing the value of Collected Data

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"Statistics Lies Assessing the value of Collected Data"
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When you are using figures to emphasise the strength of your business in a particular area, how do you display it in press material? For example, would you say 'nearly 300' because that takes the figure up to a significant milestone or would you say 'in excess of 280'?

Ideally we want to be precise with statistics but the very nature of business means that such information is subject to change so the apparent vagueness above actually gives the communication material a longer life span. However, there are other issues to consider too.

What is your reaction to the 'nearly 300' figure anyway? Do you read the word 'nearly' at all? Personally I wouldn't be fooled by it because the message is implying that the organisation is at a level it has not yet reached. It's not a lie but it is still misleading. I mean how nearly' is 'nearly'? Is it 295, 282, 270? All are close but the further away you are the harder it is to justify.

I would always avoid this method of presentation because it waters down the impact that can be gained from when the milestone is finally reached. If the 'nearly 300' figure is used regularly beforehand, a press release on the eventual achievement will be rendered almost pointless. Everyone has had the 300 figure in their head months.

Press release speak is almost comical for those that write them. There are established phrases that are adapted in such way as to artificially sugar-coat a sentence. I often find myself smiling when I come up with a variation on an established theme that sounds more impressive that it actually is in reality.

Other terms that are used to ramp up the stats include growing' and increasing' etc which can be legitimately used if you are clever with the period used to express your statistics. If the figure has risen 20% in three years it sounds better than if you said that they had remained stagnant over the last 12 months cleverly ignoring the fact that all the growth had taken place in the first year.

Statistics are a very important weapon in the armoury of marketers whether it is for business, political or for a campaign for change in society. They add serious weight to an argument which can be very persuasive if presented in the correct way to the right people.

While I am reluctant to say that you can 'get away' with misleading statistics it is certainly true that you can. However, there is a quote by Abraham Lincoln that you may recall that goes: "You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of time, but you can't fool all of the people all of time."

More about this author: Jeremy Orbell

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