Numbers and the tricks they play

When you’re looking at news stories remember that it’s not just the words you need to take notice of but the numbers too.


Numbers can be used to tell all sorts of stories. They can help show the scale of a particular problem or issue, illustrating whether it’s big or small.

In this short animation you’ll learn:

  • that just because a number looks big doesn't mean it really is
  • how a really small number might turn out to be much bigger than it first appears

It sometimes helps to break numbers down to see what they really mean or turn them into something you can relate to. For instance:

  • Large distances or areas can be broken down into the equivalent number of football pitches
  • Large numbers of people are often represented by actual areas or even entire countries and populations

Remember to use the same basic checks you do with any story, and ask yourself:

  • who is giving me this number?
  • where did it come from originally?
  • why is this number being used to tell this story?
  • what does it tell me?
  • how does this number relate to the story, my life and something I can understand?
  • when in time does this number relate to? If I look at a different time, does this number change?

Learn how to use numbers in stories by trying our lesson plan.

Staff sign-in

Please wait while we check that you are connected to the BBC internal network

Sorry, we couldn't confirm that you were on the BBC internal network

  • Please check that you are connected to the BBC internal network
  • Please check the link you are trying to access is correct
Close and continue

You are confirmed on the BBC network

Close and continue