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Want readers to remember your data? Use percentages!

Scientific research shows that percentages are remembered significantly better than many other forms of quantitative data.

Whether you’re producing a press release, an advertisement or a television commercial, your goal is to inform and persuade your audience. As you’ve probably discovered yourself, this is often a lot harder than it sounds. Several studies have shown that people remember very little of what they are exposed to through a growing variety of media. Fortunately, there are ways to influence these effects.

Percentages last

In a study focused on the recall of quantitative data in news articles, researchers distinguished several forms in which numerical information can be cited. They presented subjects with news articles which used different variations of quantitative data, and discovered there are significant distinctions when it comes to remembering these various forms.

The study showed that quantitative data were more successfully recalled when presented as percentages (20%) than as written fractions (one fifth) or absolute numbers (34.000). The experiment was repeated for a Master’s thesis in The Netherlands, using visitors of marketing weblog as respondents. The results where the same: percentages were significantly better recalled than absolute numbers and written fractions. Percentages also help to optimize reader comprehension, as concluded in a study regarding package inserts provided with prescription medication.

Bart Verhulst, Co-founder and CCO of PressPage
Percentages are significantly better recalled than absolute numbers and written fractions.
Bart Verhulst, Co-founder and CCO of PressPage

Informing and persuading

These findings support both previously mentioned goals: informing and persuading. The first one speaks for itself: readers are better informed when they’re able to recall the content more successfully. But did you know that quantitative data also serve to make your publication more convincing? Two experiments by another Dutch researcher in 2011 revealed that the use of numerical information in news articles contributes to the perceived trustworthiness of the article.

So definitely use quantitative data to make your release more convincing, and choose percentages whenever possible to help your readers remember more. There in one exception: if the reader feels the writer or quoted source lacks in expertise, the use of numbers will actually have a reverse effect.


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