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Lies, damned lies, and ‘infographics’

Everyone knows that 65 per cent of statistics are made up; but did you know that 78.9 per cent of people are more inclined to believe a statistic if it’s specified to a decimal place?

lies statistics

If you read the above as part of an infographic, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was true; however, the sad fact of the matter is that a number of these infographics are incredibly skewed, poorly sourced, incorrectly referenced or just flat-out wrong. In the words of American author and humourist, Mark Twain: “Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are more pliable.”

 

Read on to learn the best practices for correctly sourcing stats and facts.

 

Wikipedia: friend or foe?

You won’t find a more divisive information source than Wikipedia. Ask any journalist or researcher their opinion of the online encyclopaedia and you’ll either get a naive response asking what the problem is, or an overblown rant condemning every word as a user-edited lie.

The true answer actually resides somewhere in the middle: Wikipedia is an excellent starting point.

When businesses set out to create an informative infographic they need to know their stuff. If you reference Wikipedia as a source for your information, you instantly destroy any illusions of that. When I see a link to a Wiki page in the reference list of an infographic, I can’t help but presume that all the information I just read hasn’t been fact-checked or properly attributed.

However, you shouldn’t let the naysayers put you off: a lot of Wiki pages are regularly checked and strictly moderated; just make sure you follow all facts and statistics back to the original source. Go straight to the references and external links section of the article and check the information there.

 

Question everything

Whether you’re collecting facts and statistics yourself, or just reading something online, you should always question the information that’s being fed to you. At a glance, statistics may appear to come from an authoritative source, but are they the most up-to-date figures available? If not, and you present them as though they are, then you are in danger of painting a very inaccurate picture.

In every instance, you should endeavour to collect the most recent figures available and present them in a way that isn’t concealing their true nature. For example, the popularity of particular pieces of technology can take dramatic turns in a short space of time. Sales and usage stats from just a year ago could look very different to what it’s like today. Industries move fast, and as such statistics can have a very short shelf life.

Sample size is another important consideration to make before presenting statistics in part of your infographic. It may be true that 60 per cent of women do their shopping online, but if this figure is taken from a survey that only questioned 100 people, then the stat loses its merit considerably.

The size of a sample will vary according to the total population that the data is being applied to; typically speaking, the larger the sample the more authoritative and representative it should be. When you’re conducting research yourself, or referencing someone else’s data, try to make sure this is the case. If the sample is smaller, be upfront and honest about how the statistics were derived and the readers will make their own judgement.

 

Don’t let statistics do a number on you

Your business may be a fountain of knowledge for the industry you operate in, but sometimes you’re required to branch out and acquire information from external sources.  If you’ve followed our advice up to this point, you may be feeling suitably terrified of using someone else’s statistics – don’t be.

It’s important that you take a common sense approach when sourcing and referencing someone else’s information. Here are four considerations you should make:

  • How much can I use? There isn’t a hard and fast rule when it comes to amount the information you can replicate in your own content; however, you should respect the time and effort that went into gathering that information. As a general guide, you should avoid replicating more than 20 per cent of anyone’s data in your own content and incorporate a variety of other informative sources.
  • Do I need permission? It’s not always necessary, but it’s useful to have approval and set guidelines from the source you’re referencing data from. If you bury your head in the sand and hope they don’t notice, you’re only risking problems further down the line. If in doubt, ask.
  • Is this the original source? So many infographics these days reference news articles from the likes of the BBC and the Guardian as their source for the statistic. Unless these news organisations have collected the data themselves, they are actually reporting on someone else’s data. Always follow the stats back to the original source and credit the right organisation.
  • Do I need to reference everything? It’s possible to be too careful. If your reference list is getting out of control, you’re probably referencing general information that doesn’t need to be attributed to a single source. Everyone knows how to screw in a light bulb, you don’t need to reference a blog that explains how!

 

Hopefully you haven’t lost too much faith in statistics. When they are sourced and represented correctly, they can be incredibly informative for the audience you’re trying to reach.  Take a look at the infographic we put together for International Women’s Day; it used statistics and data from the government and NSPCC to paint a holistic picture of why violence against women is a problem in the UK.

When it comes to creating your own infographic, always use statistics from a variety of sources to create a piece that’s informative, authoritative, engaging and 100 per cent well sourced.

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Author:

Dan Carmichael

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