Writing about probability in a way that people will understand

We see probabilities mentioned in the news, in weather forecasts, during sporting events, political arguments, business reports, elections, medical advice, and scientific findings. But probability is a tricky concept that not all (most?) people understand. Grace Huckins for The Open Notebook outlines useful ways to communicate the numbers more clearly — to increase the chances readers do understand.

On using concrete numbers over percentages:

Concrete numbers can also make statistics feel more personally relevant. A 0.5 percent risk of developing a particular kind of cancer may seem minuscule. But if a reader went to a high school with 1,000 students, they may find it more impactful to hear that five of their classmates, on average, will develop the disease. In a March 2021 story, American Public Media used concrete numbers rather than percentages to communicate race disparities in COVID deaths. They reported that 1 of every 390 Indigenous Americans had died of COVID.

Other tips include using visuals, relatable comparisons, and acknowledging uncertainty instead of speaking in absolutes.