Objective measures

Most numeric measures take on two forms: an absolute value (a quantity of something) or a relative value (a measure of one quantity relative to another quantity). Relative values, usually presented as percentages, are commonly used to express two things:

1. A proportion: how much one subset measure is, relative to the total measure. For example:

  • 48% of our employees are women.
  • 30% of our product sales were to first-time customers.
  • About 20% of this book’s pages are devoted to puzzles.

2. A rate of change: how much a measure has changed since a previous benchmark. Examples:

  • We added 10% more female employees in 2009.
  • Product sales were down 22% over last month.
  • Version 2 of this book increased its puzzle pages by 12% over Version 1.

These are valuable and very common measures in communicating objective information. Numeric quantities provide clear and meaningful representations. Here is a sampling that illustrates how vague some words can be.

  • numerous: 10 items if describing your to-do list; 19,000 if speaking of fans at a stadium
  • many: jillions, referring to stars in the sky;two if speaking about ex-wives
  • jillions: infinity in some cases; inconceivably large for the context
  • hardly any: not zero, but much fewer than expected
  • a few: more than 1 but less than 5
  • several: less than 10 but more than a few
  • giant: 10 to 13 meters if referring to squid; 1 inch if referring to ants
  • tall: over 5’10” if referring to a human; more than 50 stories if referring to a building
  • jumbo: 181 to 200 per kilo when describing olives; 3 inches if referring to shrimp
  • genius: IQ > 120 in absolute terms, or anyone smarter than you
  • idiot: 3rd grade mental capability, or an inebriated genius

A specific numeric representation would probably paint a picture with more clarity and meaning.


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