Words Matter

And now the basketball scores: 110–102, 125–113, 131–127, and in an overtime duel, 95–94. Boy, that was a squeaker! Oh, and here's a partial score: Pittsburgh, 37.

—George Carlin, as sportscaster Biff Burns (c. 1967)

When you are focusing on numbers, it's easy to forget that words matter, too. Imagine receiving a report that contains four pages of numbers, but no words. What kinds of conclusions could you draw from this report? How would you know what the numbers were measuring? What would the report actually mean to you? In the same way that books need titles and chapter headings, so do your reports. Your titles, row headings, column headings, and comments tell your audience what your numbers are measuring and help your audience reach conclusions about the contents of your reports.

Still, words by themselves won't guarantee that your audience will find your reports clear and easy to understand. You have to choose the right words to include in your presentations. And when it comes to quantation, the right words must be as precise and accurate as possible. The level of precision you employ with your words is completely your choice. You can choose the level of precision you want to employ with your words, just as you can choose the number of digits you want to present. However, just like the choices you have with numbers, you often face trade-offs between adding accuracy to your words and making your reports clean enough that your audience can quickly grasp ...

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