Numbers can have emotion, they can change hearts and they can inspire minds. But not on their own. When we tie them to a narrative, numbers have their full impact.
While there’s plenty of third-party data available to help support our efforts in making the world a better place, sometimes it’s more useful to gather your own. I’m not going to pretend I know the deepest secrets about research and surveys, because I don’t. But there are three helpful points I keep in mind when building a story out of data.
Get Creative with Your Perspective
As with everything we do in the nonprofit and advertising worlds, we always keep our audience top-of-mind. Writing surveys or finding stories in data should be no different. Dig to find the information that your audience will find useful, the insights that will be interesting and the facts they’ll find fun.
As we were writing a recent survey for our Saving for Retirement campaign, we of course included questions about tactics our audience uses in saving for their own retirement. But we also very intentionally included questions about their feelings towards retirement – like if they feel they’re more likely to learn Bigfoot is real than to save enough money to retire comfortably. Sure enough, nearly 1 in 3 respondents felt the mythical creature is more likely to be real than retiring comfortably. This gave an underlying feeling to the other findings in the survey, which might have felt too sterile without an emotional context. And it provided a great news hook to grab the attention of reporters and get them to take a closer look at our survey results.
Keep Your Phrasing Comprehensible
If you’re lucky enough to have a hand in crafting a survey, remember to write as if you’re talking with friends, because the way the questions and answers are phrased in the survey is the way you’ll need to present your findings to your audience. It’s easy to get caught up in the jargon and semantics of “survey speak,” so don’t stop yourself. Let it all out in the survey’s first draft or two. When that’s out of your system, go back through your survey and ask yourself how you’d talk about this in a conversation around the dinner table. Rewrite from there.
Know Where You Want Your Findings to Go
There’s nothing worse than prepping, fielding and analyzing a survey, only to realize there’s no plan in place to share the information with your audience. If you can identify your distribution outlets as you craft the survey, you can keep more than just your audience in mind – you can keep the context in which they’re absorbing the information in mind as well. For example, a home decorating blog is going to have a completely different connotation than a sports magazine. If you’re digging for a narrative in an already-completed survey, it’s still helpful to dive in with an end in mind. This helps you look at the information through the lens of the type of story you want to tell.
We recently put these learnings to the test and had a blast taking an issue that’s seemingly quite a bore – you guessed it, retirement savings habits – and crafting it into a fun, engaging survey. Turning retirement savings into an interesting topic is the super power of our Saving for Retirement campaign and AceYourRetirement.org, so this survey fits right in. 1,600 people facing retirement age shared their insights, fears and habits with us, which we then published on AARP and turned into the infographic below.