Finding Relevant Facts and Statistics

This article gives some reference information that will help you get started with your research.

A fact is a truth that is arrived at through the scientific process. Speakers often support a point or specific purpose by citing facts that their audience may not know. A typical way to introduce a fact orally is "Did you know that…?"

Many of the facts that speakers cite are based on statistics. Statistics is the mathematical subfield that gathers, analyzes, and makes inferences about collected data. Data can come in a wide range of forms – the number of people who buy a certain magazine, the average number of telephone calls made in a month, the incidence of a certain disease. Though few people realize it, much of our daily lives are governed by statistics. Everything from seat-belt laws, to the food we eat, to the amount of money public schools receive, to the medications you are prescribed are based on the collection and interpretation of numerical data.

It is important to realize that a public speaking textbook cannot begin to cover statistics in depth. If you plan to do statistical research yourself, or gain an understanding of the intricacies of such research, we strongly recommend taking a basic class in statistics or quantitative research methods. These courses will better prepare you to understand the various statistics you will encounter.

However, even without a background in statistics, finding useful statistical information related to your topic is quite easy. Table 1 Statistics-Oriented Websites provides a list of some websites where you can find a range of statistical information that may be useful for your speeches.

Website Type of Information
The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics provides links to a range of websites for labor issues related to a vast range of countries.
FedStats FedStats provides information on the U.S. federal government.
Bureau of Justice Statistics U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics provides information on crime statistics in the United States.
U.S. Census Bureau U.S. Census Bureau provides a wide range of information about people living in the United States.
National Center for Health Statistics National Center for Health Statistics is a program conducted by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It provides information on a range of health issues in the United States.
STATS STATS is a nonprofit organization that helps people understand quantitative data. It also provides a range of data on its website.
The Roper Center for Public Opinion Research Roper Center for Public Opinion Research provides data related to a range of issues in the United States.
Nielsen Nielsen provides data on consumer use of various media forms.
Gallop Gallup provides public opinion data on a range of social and political issues in the United States and around the world.
Pew Research Center The Pew Research Center provides public opinion data on a range of social and political issues in the United States and around the world.


Table 1 Statistics-Oriented Websites

Statistics are probably the most used – and misused – form of support in any type of speaking. People like numbers. People are impressed by numbers. However, most people do not know how to correctly interpret numbers. Unfortunately, there are many speakers who do not know how to interpret them either or who intentionally manipulate them to mislead their listeners. As the saying popularized by Mark Twain goes, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics". Twain, M. (1924). Autobiography (Vol. 1). New York, NY: Harper & Bros., p. 538.

To avoid misusing statistics when you speak in public, do three things.

  1. Be honest with yourself and your audience. If you are distorting a statistic or leaving out other statistics that contradict your point, you are not living up to the level of honesty your audience is entitled to expect.

  2. Run a few basic calculations to see if a statistic is believable. Sometimes a source may contain a mistake – for example, a decimal point may be in the wrong place or a verbal expression like "increased by 50 percent" may conflict with data showing an increase of 100 percent.

  3. Evaluate sources (even those in Table 1 Statistics-Oriented Websites, which are generally reputable) according to the criteria discussed earlier in the chapter: accuracy, authority, currency, and objectivity.


Creative Commons License This text was adapted by Saylor Academy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 License without attribution as requested by the work's original creator or licensor.

Last modified: Wednesday, September 23, 2020, 1:59 PM