How to write Killer Facts and Graphics – what are your best examples?

June 21, 2012

     By Duncan Green     

Killer Fact attackTime for a spot of crowd sourcing. We’ve had research guidelines on our intranet for ages, covering everything from survey design to writing for impact. Now we’re updating them and, more importantly, making some of them public on Oxfam’s Policy and Practice website. I’ve been lumbered with revising the ‘Killer Fact’ two pager, so naturally thought I would try and use the blog to get other people to do the work for me. Here’s the draft – all comments welcome, but particularly, give me your best killer facts under each heading (or suggest new headings) – with links please. Honourable mentions to the best suggestions. ‘Killer Facts’, are those punchy, memorable, headline-grabbing statistics that cut through the technicalities to fire people up about changing the world. They are picked up and repeated endlessly by the media and politicians. They are known as ‘killer’ facts because if they are really effective, they ‘kill off’ the opposition’s arguments. The right killer fact or graphic can have more impact than the whole of a well-researched report. Suggestions for how to do it There are various kinds of killer facts. Most involve some kind of comparison:

Type of killer fact  Example (please click on the link for sources) 
Big Number: the single statistic showing the size of the problem
  • Armed conflict costs Africa $18 billion a year
  • A Eurozone breakup could cost the poorest countries $30 billion in lost trade and foreign investment
  • Remittances from overseas workers to developing countries are worth $372 billion a year, 3 times the global aid budget
Juxtaposition to highlight injustice and double standards
  • It would cost $66 billion to get everyone on the planet out of extreme poverty – 4% of global military spending [From Poverty to Power second edition, forthcoming]
  • A woman’s risk of dying from pregnancy-related causes ranges from 1 in18 in Nigeria to 1 in 8,700 in Canada.
And absurdity can make a juxtaposition much more memorable 
Surprising Stats
Humanizing abstract issues
Human scale. Statistics can be so big that we can’t comprehend what they mean. Re-scale them to a size we can relate to.
Killer Graphics Graphs can speak louder than words, as can infographics [example below]. They can illustrate the contrasts of killer facts but in addition   Do’s and Don’ts DO:
  • Be totally certain of the data you use to create your killer fact. The sources must be reliable and respected, and as up to date as possible. You should reference them in your report.
  • Be ready to provide sources to media or politicians – if the killer fact succeeds, they will be on the phone very quickly and you need your sources ready!
  • Make sure that the fact can’t be misinterpreted, i.e. that the language is not too convoluted. Otherwise journalists will attempt to re-write it in plain terms and accidentally twist your meaning. The same applies to killer graphics: make sure they can be readily understood and not given alternative interpretations.
  • Make sure the best killer facts are included in the executive summary and the press release – ask someone other than the author, e.g. a media officer, to read through the paper and pick out the best ones.
  • Plan ahead: early on when working on your report, decide on the kind of killer facts you would really like to have. Does the data already exist to fill it out? If not, is it possible to generate that data?
  • Working out killer facts can take a long time – it often involves adding statistics up in a way that they are not usually added up. So make the time, or get a research assistant to help you with all the calculations.
  • Cut corners on killer facts. They are crucial to a report’s impact. If you are exhausted and have run out of inspiration (a common problem late on in the writing process!) ask a media officer or campaigner to help with ideas.
  • Use too many killer facts in one paper: focus on the most powerful. Otherwise they overwhelm the reader.
  • Rely on killer facts that have been overused in the past: keep it contemporary, relevant, and interesting.
  • Use a killer fact that is not credibly sourced, even if it fits your message. It is not worth damaging your credibility for quick hit.
And remember – if in doubt, leave it out! Over to you…….]]>

June 21, 2012
Duncan Green