How to Interpret Numbers, Percentages and Statistics in Argument Topics

Some arguments contain numbers, percentages or statistics that are offered as evidence in support of the argument's conclusion. For example, an argument might claim that a certain community event is less popular this year than it was last year because only 100 people attended this year as compared with 150 last year, a 33-percent decline in attendance.

It is important to remember that you are not being asked to do a mathematical task with the numbers, percentages or statistics. Instead, you should evaluate these as evidence intended to support the conclusion. In the example above, the conclusion is that a community event has become less popular. You should ask yourself, "Does the difference between 100 people and 150 people support that conclusion?" In this case, there are other possible explanations, e.g., the weather might have been much worse this year, this year's event might have been held at an inconvenient time, the cost of the event might have gone up this year, or there might have been another popular event this year at the same time.

Any one of these could explain the difference in attendance and weaken the conclusion that the event was "less popular." Similarly, percentages might support or weaken a conclusion depending on what actual numbers the percentages represent. Consider the claim that the drama club at a school deserves more funding because its membership has increased by 100 percent. This 100-percent increase could be significant if there had been 100 members and now there are 200 members, whereas the increase would be much less significant if there had been five members and now there are 10.

Remember that any numbers, percentages or statistics in Argument tasks are used only as evidence in support of a conclusion, and you should always consider whether they actually support the conclusion.


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