SATW: 60 Second Travel Writer #3 – Numbers

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catharine hamm 1The old joke among journalists is that we chose our profession because we can’t do numbers.

Here’s a 60-Second Travel Writer Tip from LA Times Travel Editor Catharine Hamm:

You don’t have to be a mathematician to use numbers in stories, and that’s good because they lend gravitas. The number of square feet in a hotel room. How far a place is from the airport. How much it cost to build something.

But sometimes we end up with sentences like this:

The hotel, built at a cost of $7 billion and opened in 2013, has 204 rooms, each about 650 square feet in its eight stories that loom above downtown 22 miles from the airport. Rates begin at $225 a night for two people, excluding taxes and the $20-a-night resort fee.

All of that information could be important, but stick to this rule of thumb: About three numbers is the maximum a reader can absorb in any sentence and, some editors say, any paragraph. Choose the two or three most important figures in what we’ll call a gravitas graf. If there are other stats that could help, sprinkle them in unobtrusively.

Up next: how to use numbers more effectively. For SATW professional development, I’m Westways Travel Editor Elizabeth Harryman.