Yeah, yeah. I get it. You became a writer because you didn’t want to do math. You got into editing a general interest magazine, because you wouldn’t be required to remember the difference between mean and median. Or you decided to write novels, thanks to a horrific experience in your Math for English Majors class.
Only science writers need math, right?
So yeah, science writers are most likely going to geek out on statistical analysis or a super-cool line graph. But lots of us writers need math to help us rise to the tops of our fields. It’s no secret that I believe this. I wrote a book about it.
In fact, for some writers — like business or health reporters — math is a pretty important skill. But even fiction writers can use a dose of math now and then. Let me break it down for you.
If your beat is businesses, you are probably pretty comfortable with the math that companies use to assess their financial health. This means understanding a little bit about percentages and statistical analysis. You know how to read an annual report, including the charts and graphs that illustrate what the company is trying to say.
At the same time, you probably have a healthy dose of skepticism, You know that statistics can be misleading. To really analyze a company’s status, you need to crunch the numbers yourself. Or at least question where they came from.
It seems that most health stories in magazines and newspapers hinge on a recent study or report. It’s clear when the writer and editor get the math behind that research — and when they don’t. If you’re a health writer, you know how to use those numbers so that your readers are not misled.
This means understanding something about sample size, or when a study’s sample is too small or just right. You also know to ask for the study itself, instead of depending only on the summary or (worse) a press release written by a PR person who doesn’t have a background in that field.
Whether you ghostwrite or pen books using your own name, a little bit of math can go a long way to being sure that you’re on the road to an actual book and making a little money. Even fiction writers can use math in this way.
You use formulas in a spreadsheet to help count down your words and stay on deadline. You use statistical analysis to demonstrate to a potential publisher or agent that people want to read your book. Your platform is not only based on the number of Twitter followers you have, but also how well your fans engage with you on social media.
So even if you were promised no math in your chosen career as a writer, a little bit of math can help. Thankfully, you won’t need a math degree or even a college statistics refresher to master these computations. Clearly you’re smart enough. You’re a writer!
Need to brush up on your math skills? Check out my book, Math for Writers: Tell a Better Story, Get Published and Make More Money. And be on the lookout for my upcoming online statistics course for writers and journalists. In the meantime, if you have any questions, ask them in the comments section!