A fact sheet seems like the easiest thing in the world to write.
Numbers. Lots of numbers. Then you highlight them all and lick on the little icon in Word to make them into a series of bullets.
Fact sheets are meant to inform, so the natural structure is journalism’s inverted pyramid: most important to least important.
Except how do you sort out which facts are more important than the others?
Avoiding Common Mistake With Fact Sheets
- Too many facts. It’s easy to find numbers and statistics. You’ll collect dozens of them, and who wants to spend hours finding all those good numbers and not use them?
- Different sources saying the same thing. It’s often a bad idea to cite multiple sources on the same issue, because they’ll disagree about the number. They’ll have used different methodologies and completed their study at different times. Even the same organization using the same methods on the same day will have slightly different numbers due to statistical noise.
- Facts in random order with no flow or structure.There are good reasons to spend time and thought into putting facts into a structure.
- Sourcing and attributions burying the facts.Who are the stars of this show? The facts, not where you got them. If your sources and citations turn a fact bullet into a long boring paragraph, put the source into a footnote.
It’s a good idea to prune down your facts and have some sort of logical order to them.
The first fact should often speak to significance — the size of the problem. Why is this important?
A good second number is relevance. Why should the average person care? Here’s an example: Drunk driving kills 45,000 people a year. You are three times more likely to be maimed or killed driving home from work at the hands of a drunk driver than you are to be hurt or killed by a criminal.
Another relevant issue is cost. If you work for a corporation announcing a new product, this might be the most important fact of all: “Our new electric car will cost $20,000 — and you’ll save $2,000 a year on gas.”
Comparisons are also typical. The press and public want to know how to measure things against other things they’re familiar with. Other products. Other problems.
A different sort of fact sheet deals not with numbers, but with timelines. If an inmate escapes from a federal prison in Utah and U.S. Marshals chase him through five states before they catch him, the press and public will want to know what happened and when. A timeline.
Fact sheets can also be used to details specifics of something new, whether it’s the screen size and battery life of the newest device from Silicon Valley, the details of a proposed law or the career numbers of the new right fielder for the Boston Red Sox.