Significant digits and relevance

Nov 8, 2011

Lulu Pinney goes over the subtle art of working with significant digits:

When we say on the phone “I’ll be there in half an hour” it’s quite likely we’ll arrive sometime in the next 25 to 35 minutes. But for the context of meeting up with a friend “half an hour” will do. If you said “see you in 27 minutes” that would raise a laugh being an odd level of precision for the given context. The same ideas apply to numbers in journalism.

Important in both accurate representation of data and readability.

1 Comment

  • Sometimes I can see exceptions. People overuse the words:
    “give me a second”
    “…one second”
    “….five minutes I promise”
    When I was a kid working in our family owned ice cream shop years ago, I use to tell customers the frozen yogurt machine will be ready in three minutes simply because I noticed if I said five minutes, they would just walk away assuming it’ll be closer to fifteen minutes.

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