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Communicating Data

Data is just a Google-search away – from sources around the world. Content is available in all formats and platforms. In the midst of so much content and data, it takes insight and discernment to provide accurate, clear and relevant information that informs and equips.

Here are a few principles for communicating data:

  • Does the data make sense? All those estimation problems that math teachers force on their students are actually useful, because they help in discerning if a number makes sense. When a number is stated precisely, such as “886,400 people live in the city,” then one might assume that accuracy is guaranteed. However, if the city in question is Mexico City, then it is possible that a digit was lost and the actual number is closer to 8,864,000. As an editor, I may not know the actual population of Mexico City, but I know it is one of world’s largest cities, so the figure of less than a million people doesn’t make sense. If a number doesn’t make sense, I can search different sources to verify the number.
  • Is the data accurately labeled? Population information is available for cities and for metropolitan areas. There is a difference. The population within the city limits may be vastly different from the population in an area that includes suburbs which surround the city. For example, an estimated 21.2 million people live in the metropolitan area which includes Mexico City.
  • Is the data comparable? If I am comparing cities in the Americas, I may want to discuss New York City and Mexico City. If I am sloppy with the data, I could say that New York has 19.6 million people while Mexico City has 8.9 million, leading the reader to believe that New York City is larger than Mexico City. The data cited are not comparable – the New York metropolitan area has 19.6 million people, but New York City has 8.3 million people. On both scales, New York City is smaller than Mexico City.

These are just a few checks to use when presenting data. Accuracy matters!

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