Math Tools for Journalists Part 1

By Megan Wanner


Many journalists do not grasp just how important numbers are in reporting.  In the world around us, numbers are everywhere, from statistics of baseball games to percentiles in school testing.  These numbers are not only everywhere, but relevant to the reporter’s job of informing the public.  Understanding the language of numbers means understanding the style of writing with numbers, including when to use numerals or to spell words out and when to use one word instead of another.


Percentages become very useful in articulating to the reader more clearly.  Rather than using fractions, which can be confusing, journalists can use a more clear, concise number for calculations ranging from compounding interest to payments on loans.


Journalists encounter statistics regularly and when they understand the language, communication between the writer and the reader can become more enjoyable.  Statistics are helpful in determining probability, lottery odds and standard deviations.  Not only are there the everyday statistics, but there are also federal statistics such as unemployment rates.


Math Problems:


1)      Ted typically spends about $230 every three weeks on groceries at Harris Teeter.  The inflation rate at this time is 3.2.  The inflation rate is the same the next year.  What is the new cost of the groceries?


New cost = $230(1+[.032/12])

New cost = $230.61


2)      Rebecca scored an 86% on her United States Government High School Assessment.  Out of the 356 people who took the test, Rebecca scored equal to or higher than 278.  What is Rebecca’s percentile rank?


278/356 = 78th percentile


3)      Harry ranked twenty-sixth in the nation in long jumping.  Over one-fourth of the long jumpers were over the age of sixteen; Harry was fourteen.  Which of these numbers should be expressed as numerals?


26th, 16, 14

In ranking if the number is 10 or above use the numeral word with its subscript.

Numerals are used for numbers 10 and above.


4)      Dennis makes 10 of his 11 free throws in the first half of the basketball game and 11 of his 13 free throws in the second half.  What is his free throw percentage for the game?


[(10+11)/(11+13)]x 100 = 87.5 %


One response to “Math Tools for Journalists Part 1

  1. You didn’t write enough about the four chapters. Sum them up in a more expanded form than what you have here. Don’t worry about a re-do on this one, but go deeper next time. When you write the problems, really make them math problems to solve – don’t quiz on the style of number use in media writing.

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