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...