Math Tools Chapters 1-4

When many people think of writing, they rarely ever think of numbers. It’s one of the last things journalists and most other people will have on their minds when they are writing a paper or reading an article. Yet numbers still play an important part in most forms of writing, particularly newspaper writing. It is something that many journalists often overlook and not think about until they are writing an article that involves numbers. Here are some tips form Kathleen Woodruff Wickham, author of Math Tools for Journalists, on the “language of numbers,” as she calls it.

  • If the number is between 1 and 9 or above 1 million, spell it out. Otherwise, write it in numerical form. Same goes when a number is used to assign a position or ranking (first to ninth, then 10th and so on).
  • Round off larger numbers unless you have to put down a specific number (such as number wounded in a shooting).
  • Whenever you can, round numbers to just one decimal point. Example: Manny Ramirez’s agent, Scott Boras, is asking for $12.5 million a year for his client.
  • If you have a fraction and it is less than one, spell it out.
  • Try to avoid starting a sentence with a number. But, if you do, the number should be written out (forty-nine), unless it’s a date.
  • If the number is a part of the name of a corporation or any other kind of organization, write the number the same way it appears in the name.
  • Always use numerals for addresses, dates, percentages, speeds, temperatures, times, weight, money (though if it’s over 1 million, then you can combine numbers and words) and ages (though some newspapers spell out ages lower than 10).
  • Try to have no more than two or three numbers per paragraph and only one if it’s the lead of a story.
  • Do math for your readers. If you are too lazy to do it, what makes you think your readers won’t be?
  • Make sure your reader can understand what you are saying. It’s great to use all the numbers in the world, but if your reader doesn’t understand them, then it is pointless to have them in the article.
  • Use the actual word ‘minus,’ not a -.
  • When you are talking about a series, use the basic style rules even if the numbers are a mix of single and multiple digits.
  • If you are talking about two specific items or any individual items, use the word ‘between.’ If you are talking about a group of something, use the word ‘among.’
  • When you compare one item to another in a figurative use, use ‘compared to.’ When you examine two items for their statistical similarities or differences, use ‘compared with.’
  • Given the choice, it is better to use ‘different from’ than ‘different than.’
  • When talking about physical distance, use ‘farther.’ Use ‘further’ for degree, time or quantity.
  • ‘Fewer’ should be used for items that can be countable. For mass or time terms, use ‘less than.’
  • The word ‘under’ is used in reference to a physical relationship, while ‘less than’ refers to a smaller quantity.
  • You should use ‘over’ when talking about spatial relationships and ‘more than’ for figures and amounts.

1.) You use ‘farther’ for ______________ and ‘further’ for ______________________.
-physical distance; degree, time or quantity.

2.) In 200 at bats, Franklin had 67 hits. What is Franklin’s batting average?

3.) What do you use mean, median and mode to find?
¬Mean: Average; Median: Number in the middle of a series; Mode: Number that occurs most frequently.

4.) In June 2008, the CPI was 181.3. The next month, it grew to 185.4. What was the monthly inflation rate?
-2.26 percent


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