Numbers can't "talk," but they can tell you as much as your human sources can. But as with human sources, you have to ask!

So what should you ask a number? Well, mathematicians have developed an entire field — statistics — dedicated to getting answers out of numbers. Now, you don't have to have a degree in statistics in order to conduct an effective "interview" with your data. But you do need to know a few basics.

In 1996, I first published *Statistics Every Writer Should Know*, an online tutorial for math-phobic journalists. I majored in a program called "Mathematical Methods in the Social Sciences" at Northwestern University (try to fit *that* on a job application!), and thought that I could use my math background to help some of my fellow newspaper reporters become less afraid of numbers. The website attracted a lot of attention, and over the years, I've received hundreds of emails from students thanking me for saving their rear end on their statistics finals. That wasn't the audience I was aiming for, but hey, I'm happy to help anyone.

Running a business demands at least a basic knowledge of math and math concepts, so I'm including this tutorial as an appendix my 2012 book, *How to Make Money Publishing Community News Online*. I've rewritten and updated several of the sections, so even if you've followed my work before, I hope you'll find this version of the tutorial even more helpful.

Here, described in plain English, are some basic concepts in statistics that every writer should know...

**So, You're a Beginner?****Mean**

Let's get started...**Median**

How to find out how the "average Joe" is doing**Mode**

So, like, who's popular?**Percent**

Ch-ch-ch-changes...**The Next Step: Not Getting Duped****Per capita and Rates**

When an increase is really a decrease and other ways people can use numbers to trick you**Standard Deviation and Normal Distribution**

A quick look at the King of Stats**Survey Sample Sizes and Margin of Error**

How not to get suckered by polls and other research**Regression Analysis**

It's all about relationships...**Data Analysis**

How to tell if these numbers are really worth writing about anyway**Frequently Asked Questions****Statistical Tests**

"How do I pick the correct statistical test for me?"**Finding Data on the Internet**

"So where can I find the inflation rate, crime statistics, and other data?"**Moving On****Student's T**

Is your sample relevant to the larger population it is supposed to represent? Use the t-test to find out.**Buy Robert's Book**

If these lessons helped you, why not help their author? ;^)

© Robert Niles. Read more in the column archive.