How to embrace data when you’re stats-phobic

By Hasna Haidar | 10 Jul 2019

The mark of a great copywriter lies in their ability to tell stories. Ask anyone – copywriters, content marketers, business leaders – and they’ll say the same. But stories are inherently qualitative – they describe things that can’t be numbered or measured. So, what about the quantitative side of things? Is it even possible to tell stories about the numerically quantifiable?

As freelance writer Taylor Holland points out “stories and data are better together – one makes an emotional connection and the other earns trust.” In the 21st century, the mark of a great copywriter lies equally as much in their ability to tell data stories. If, like many copywriters, you’ve eschewed numbers in favour of the written word, the prospect of getting to grips with data can be daunting. Here are four steps in near-chronological order to help you excel as a data copywriter.

  1. Learn the basics

You can’t run away from it, unfortunately. If you’re going to write data-fuelled copy well, you’ll need to understand the basics. Give yourself a crash course in the fundamentals of data analysis. You might want to learn the difference between mean, median and mode, how to identify positive and negative change, how to calculate a percentage increase and decrease, and the difference between correlation and causation.

  1. Make it visual

Once you’ve nailed the basics, map out your data visually. “Data visualisations make big and small data easier for the human brain to understand,” making it easier to identify trends and patterns. So, whip out the colour palette on your chosen data analysis tool (for most copywriters, this will be Microsoft Excel) and get creative with your data. For example, you might want to use conditional formatting tools to apply gradients and colour scales.

  1. Follow the story

With your data mapped out, it’s time to find a narrative. Look for trends in your data that might be interesting, or anomalies that might help you infer conclusions. Is there an outlier (a bright blue stand-out in a sea of red formatting, or a stark grey negative surrounded by positive yellows) that might be worth looking into? Or are there uniform trends that speak to an interesting consistency?

  1. Read about data

Copywriters read, right? As your final ode to data copywriting, pick up a novel centred around data or numbers. It’s a great way to become immersed in a world of which you’ve thus far lived in the periphery. Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt by Michael Lewis, Foundation by Isaac Asimov, Mathematicians in Love by Rudy Rucker and Zero Sum Game by S.L. Huang are all good options.

Whether the steps above help you get more comfortable with data or send you into a spiral of data despair, keep at it. The more you engage with numbers, percentages, statistics and analytics, the better versed you’ll become as a data copywriter.