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“Numbers have life; they're not just symbols on paper.” – Shakuntala Devi
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Issue 49   March, 2017

Take the dull out of digits

Dear Sue,

Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) launched an exhibit this week that explores the story of nine rare blue whales thatHow big is Blue? became stranded in thick ice and died. The ROM recovered two of the skeletons after the bodies washed ashore in Newfoundland and Labrador in 2014.
 
I’ve talked before about the importance of putting numbers in context, and the ROM does a great job of making connections to help visitors understand. A quiz lets you enter your own height to see how you compare to “Blue.” (That’s my comparison above.) The Blue on exhibit is 80 feet long, but it says, “the longest blue whale ever recorded was about 110 feet…about the same length as a full-size basketball court!

The museum also explains the loss of nine whales represents “about three percent of the Northwest Atlantic’s blue whale population; in Canada, that’s almost equivalent to the human population of Saskatchewan.”
 
Here are some other examples where someone has put numbers into context:

“A dizzying 900-degree spin on the 10-centimeter balance beam. Not much wider than your cellphone, lengthwise.”
– Rosie DiManno in the Toronto Star
 
“Ryan Maue, a meteorologist for WeatherBell Analytics, told the Los Angeles Times that 10 trillion gallons of rain would fall on California in the next week, enough to power Niagara Falls for 154 days.”
BBC News

“The price of syrup runs at about $2.88 per pound, according to the Quebec Maple Syrup Federation, making it 10 times more valuable than crude.”
– Ross Marowits in the Toronto Star
 
“If you’ve ever signed up for an account with Yahoo, there’s cause for concern. The company confirmed today…that 500 million user accounts were breached in a massive hack. That’s larger than the population of the United States and Mexico combined.”
– April Glaser for Recode

And my thanks to subscriber Cheryl Fletcher, who responded to the June 2016 issue about numbers with these terrific examples:

“One of our senior executives at RBC did a short video to thank our teams who were helping clients affected by Fort Mac[Murray, Alberta] fires. He used a school bus analogy to describe how many people were evacuated. And another explained that 80,000 was equivalent to all the RBC employees in the world being evacuated.”
 
Have you seen a great explanation of numbers lately? Hit "reply" and tell me about it!
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Freelance writer Sue HornerMay I help you?
Many of my clients are overworked corporate communicators who appreciate a writer who provides clear, friendly and readable copy. I simplify the complex, uncover “what’s in it for me?” and find the human angle in just about any story. Contact me and let’s chat about how I can take some pressure off your day.
Images: Blue and 5'4" me from the ROM quiz. Sue's photo: Rob Jeanveau of IABC/Golden Horseshoe.





 






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