Numbers are everywhere in the news. No matter what their area of specialty, journalists will inevitably be faced with data such as employment figures, crime stats, house prices, health claims, exam grades, survey results, blockbuster earnings, wages, taxes, interest rates, opinion polls, and more.
As a journalist, it’s essential therefore to have a good grasp of the basic statistical patterns and behaviours that you’re likely to see, as well as tools to help make sense of these numbers.
The statistics for journalists online course helps you to question and report on basic statistics that are central to many everyday stories – including surveys and polls, percentages and uncertainty.
The course will take around 20-30 minutes to complete at your own pace, and is self-guided. An audio commentary is provided, and is recommended but is optional.
- Start the course – web, mobile and tablet versions are available. To use on iPad, you may be asked to download a free Articulate app.
- Number hygiene – take-away key points to remember.
- Accessible text version of the course, and credits.
- Video of Statistics for Journalists workshop, filmed at Science and statistics for journalists course organised with the NCTJ on 13 November 2014 at Bloomberg in London. Best viewed in addition to the online course, to explore some of the points in more depth.
The course is based on a syllabus and presentation developed through the RSS Science Journalism Programme. Funded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and led by the Royal Statistical Society, volunteers developed and delivered presentations to journalists and journalism students across the UK from 2010-2015. A Science for Journalists online course is also available.
Here are a series of resources produced by the Royal Statistical Society and other organisations that will help you to refresh or deepen your statistical understanding and your ability to handle numbers.
- Number hygiene (PDF) gives key points to remember
- Our StatsLife glossary of key statistical terms
- Browse Significance Magazine’s series of articles, The Statistics Dictionary
- Making Sense of Statistics, a guide produced by Sense About Science as a primer written for non-specialists.
- The Science Media Centre produces primers on key scientific topics designed for journalists.
- Communicating statistics with the media video recording of a panel event held at the RSS in 2015.
- Three things that every medical writer should know about statistics, by Stephen Senn, in The Write Stuff: Statistics, from the European Medical Writers Association.
- Royal Statistical Society courses held throughout the year include Presenting Data and Basic Statistics.
The syllabus and workshop presentation that this course is based upon is available for anyone to use, adapt and modify. The presentation contains full notes and several exercises to help deliver the issues identified in the syllabus. You can work through this yourself as an alternative to the online course, or use it to deliver your own training to journalists or journalism students.
For details of how to request a volunteer trainer to deliver the course, see the section How it works.