Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Avoid numerical hash

So this graf appears in a story on a newspaper Web site today in a story about a drug bust:
In all, about 4 pounds of marijuana, 1.1 kilograms of cocaine, 74.8 grams of crack cocaine and 98 Ecstasy pills, with a total street value of $31,360, were seized.
Avoid the numerical hash -- do the conversions. The writer pretty much seems to have regurgitated the press release or police report. But there are enough conversion sites online that there's no excuse anymore for not quickly converting it all to pounds (or ounces):

1.1 kilogram = about 2.4 pounds
74.8 grams = a little over 2.5 ounces

Make it easy on the reader. You wonder why they don't read us when we serve up hash like that? To that end, the article might also have split that last sentence so that there is no confusion the street value applies only to the pills (warning, generally check with the reporter on this), to read:
In all, about 4 pounds of marijuana, 2.4 pounds of cocaine, about 2.5 ounces of crack cocaine and 98 Ecstasy pills were seized. Investigators estimated the total value at $31,360.
(BTW, a good comparison I once saw is that a gram is about the weight of a paperclip.)

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At 6/2/09, 10:06 AM, Blogger Jess said...

I definitely see your point, but cocaine is usually sold on the street level by the gram and marijuana by the ounce. So there is some validity in the way it was written, especially if the target audience is drug users.

Just sayin!

At 6/2/09, 1:56 PM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

If your target audience is drug users, you've got a whole different problem. :}

There's no validity in the way it was written if we are writing for people who read and speak common English, any more than you'd want to load a city council story or business story up with jargon.

At 6/2/09, 7:49 PM, Blogger Downes said...

I would find it very odd if the writer used pounds and ounces to describe weights of cocaine and crack, as though he or she did not know what they were talking about.

Even if a person speaks common English, they use grams and kilograms to describe units of these drugs (and grams and ounces for marijuana). Just as, for example, they use carats to describe diamonds (and a person writing about 'ounces' of diamonds would sound equally foolish).

At 6/3/09, 2:17 PM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

I would submit that your average U.S. reader has more understanding of what a 1-carat diamond is than one gram of coke is. People tend to think of carat in terms of size, not weight.

Now, there is a caveat here. If you are incorporating into the story parts of the law that sets minimum sentences based on amount, you may have to use grams/kg. because the law is expressed that way (though I see no reason why it could not be converted).

I'd love it if folks here were conversant in metrics. But it hasn't happened yet.


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