The Story of Numbers Written By A Word Person

The Story of Numbers Written By A Word Person
August 25, 2011


Our Thinking

I had the nice—but strange—realization last week that I have a skill I didn’t know I had.

I can speak stock market.

The realization came when my Dad called me for advice about finding a person besides his stockbroker to ask questions about reading charts of share prices for public companies.

I told him I’d try to answer them myself if I could. He was a bit surprised, but after asking me a few test questions, he decided I was the right source for him, and he followed up a couple weeks later with an even longer list of questions by e-mail.

Most of the editors I know joke about their lack of skill with understanding numbers or even doing simple arithmetic without a calculator. “We’re word people” is a typical comment.

But I’ve tried not to be intimidated by writing or editing content that has to do with numbers, money, business or investment. In fact, the majority of the content I handle at Pace Communications falls into these categories.

My dad asked me where I had gained my “above-average level of investment knowledge.”

I had to think about that one. I decided that microeconomics in college was a good start for the basics—supply-and-demand charts, limiting and non-limiting factors, gross versus net.

Working as a business reporter was the next good step. I remember the day that I learned what a bucket shop was and had the pleasure of teaching my editor. (In case you don’t know, it’s a Wall Street firm that doesn’t have the financial security to see through the initial public offerings it tries to launch. Both the company owners and the investors are left in the lurch, and sometimes the firm partners end up prosecuted.)

Years of fact-checking business and investment stories also helped a lot. And following the coverage of scandals like Tyco and World Com, I gained new knowledge mixed in with my shock and outrage. I even read a few personal finance books along the way, some of which I’ll discuss later.

I was a bit surprised to learn that although my dad was actively investing in stocks and tracking their prices on Yahoo finance, he hadn’t ever read a public company’s annual report.  I picked one of the companies I knew he was considering investing in, and printed their 2010 report. I flagged and annotated the numerous sections, paying special attention to the charts of financial data.

Numbers tell stories, even to those of us who are word people. I hope you’ll follow my blog entries as I delve deeper into the intersection of these two realms.

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