Power to the people

People power counts for a lot in writing. ‘One in a hundred people’ is likely to produce a much bigger reaction from readers of your reports than ‘one per cent’, even though they obviously mean the same thing.

Before you dismiss this as another example of general ignorance, you should know that experts are not immune to this effect. One study showed that it could trip up forensic psychiatrists, for example. They were twice as likely to refuse to release a patient if they were told that ’20 out of 100′ were likely to be violent after release than if they were told that there was a ’20 per cent chance’ of this happening.

One individual’s story is likely to override even the most powerful numerical evidence – at least if you’re writing for the general public. And even if you’re not, mentioning people (‘lawyers’, for example) rather than groups (‘the legal profession’) will give your writing much more impact.

Charities know this when they use heart-rending case studies to get your support for their causes. And governments know this when they use the term ‘collateral damage’ to play down accidental loss of life (by avoiding mentioning people at all).

You can use ‘people power’ to make your writing more effective. If you leave people out, you will almost certainly reduce its impact. Which do you want to do?