On Writing About Data

How Not to Write About Statistics Unless You Enjoy Looking Stupid

Here’s a real-world screw up from the recent jobs report coverage and how to fix it

Kristle Chester
4 min readOct 14, 2021


Write, rewrite by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexel
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

One phrase from CNBC’s September’s jobs creation comes up short with gain of just 194,000 immediately downgraded it from an informative news article to clickbait junk.

Nonfarm payrolls rose by just 190,000 in the month, compared with the Dow Jones estimate of 500,000, the Labor Department reported Friday. (Cox, 2021)

While this statement appears factual, it contains multiple errors and misrepresentations of fact. The most glaring issue is who reported Friday.

The Labor Department does not exist.

Presumably, this refers to the United States Department of Labor, commonly abbreviated as the DOL. Writers sometimes shorten this to the Department of Labor or even the Labor Department. While abbreviating “United States” as “US” is okay, substituting an alternative name or abbreviation for an agency’s name should only occur after using its full name.

Worse, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) issues the Employment Situation report, commonly called the jobs report. While the BLS is a subagency…



Kristle Chester

Freelancer. Data geek. Gardener. Baker. Spaniel lover. Georgian. MA International Commerce and Policy.