Once Upon a Data Set: Using Numbers to Create Compelling Narratives

Once upon a time, there was a lead-generating blog post supported by well-researched facts and engaging writing. Although this might sound like a fairytale, the most effective content uses real data to tell a story.

From user surveys and case studies to corporate analytics and government statistics, there’s a lot of great data available in the world. The problem is, many people find raw numbers difficult to understand and even a little (or a lot) boring.

With a little bit of narrative magic, a good writer can turn a dry data set into reader-friendly gold – all while building product awareness and increasing brand trust.

Start at the Very Beginning

Whether you’re writing a story around a set of numbers or using statistics to support a thesis, the first step is making sure that data is just right.

The information you use should be accurate, relevant, and revelatory – that is, it needs to bring something new and useful to the conversation. If it doesn’t meet those criteria, it’s probably better to find something else to work with.

Sometimes our clients come to us with original research they’ve conducted with consultants. Other times, they’ll point us toward a study they found interesting. Just as often, we’ll take a creative brief and do some supportive fact-finding of our own.

An important thing to keep in mind is to not overwhelm the reader with numbers. Some studies are very dense and comprehensive, but it’s best to pick out a few illustrative data points for each post. That way, they serve as highlights in the story you’re trying to tell, and the rest of the research can be saved for other pieces of content.

Context Isn’t Conjuration

When it comes to data, you can’t just stick a table of numbers into a post and wave a magic wand to make it engaging. Although research is conducted from a position of curiosity and knowledge-building, sometimes it takes extra work to make it approachable for other people.

Using factual information helps build readers’ trust with your brand, but it needs to make sense in the post. Data without context is just numbers, and a story without facts is just words. The two need to work together to create effective, meaningful writing.

That’s why we spend so much time researching any piece of data we publish. We want to know where it came from and how it fits into the broader context of the content. Furthermore, when we really start to look into the numbers, we might find they have a lot more to say.

For example, a client might supply us with productivity statistics for their industry. We’ll take that information and cross-reference other sources to get a bigger picture of what that might mean. A lag in productivity levels might relate to supply chain disruptions or staffing issues. Taking a look at market growth could tie it into the narrative of a larger global trend.

Framing the data in the context of other information is critical for creating a storyline that’s interesting and persuasive to the audience. Once we’ve established the background for our data, it’s time to tell the tale.

Weaving the Words

Finally, we get to writing. This is the part where the proverbial data straw gets spun into content marketing gold.

Often, data journalism involves a visual component, but as a writing firm, we rely on words to illustrate our stories. We focus on weaving facts and insights together to create posts that are compelling and informative to read.

As with any good narrative, there are key elements to include in data storytelling for content marketing:

  • The Main Character(s): The data to be highlighted.
  • The Setting: The context uncovered during research.
  • The Conflict: The point of interest for the post.
  • The Resolution: How the product or service solves the problem.

An engaging post follows the traditional story arc, introducing the data at the start, then weaving in more facts throughout the text. Ultimately, the hero (the client’s product or service) shows up to save the day.

Storytelling is a powerful, memorable way to present complex information to an audience. When used properly, it can be a key element to turn organic leads into clients.

The Moral of the Story

If you’ve got great data but aren’t sure how to tell its tale, Version A can help write a story that ends in happily ever after.

Once Upon a Data Set: Using Numbers to Create Compelling Narratives
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Anna O'Neill

As a writer at Version A, I spend my days crafting all sorts of content for our clients. From blogs to white papers to customer stories - you name it, I’ve probably written it! My background in science and the arts means that I approach each project through a double lens of research and creativity. Whatever the topic, I look at every piece as an opportunity to teach myself something new, and hopefully help readers learn something too. My constant writing companion is my little mutt, Scout.
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