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Trusting the Tabloids

Age 11 to 16
Challenge Level

Daniel, from Hitchin Boys' School, was able to make the tabloid headlines below. Anna was able to explain what extra information would be useful. This is a combination of their solutions:

... by more than 1000%!
1 in 7 chronic smokers will get lung cancer.
The chance that a person will get lung cancer at some point in their life is a little over 1%.

Rewritten: If you smoke then you are more likely to get lung cancer by more than 1000%!

Extra information: It might be useful to say what the actual risks are, rather than just the increase - to say that the risk rises from 1% to 14%.

... soar by more than 60%
In 2000, £10 would buy you a little over 13 litres of unleaded petrol.
In 2010, £10 would buy you just over 8 litres of unleaded petrol.

Rewritten: Petrol Prices Soar by more than 60%!

Extra Information: The price of petrol has risen from 77p a litre to £1.25 a litre.

... by a staggering 115%!
In 2004, 5,443 student took A-level Further Maths.
In 2010, 11,682 students took A-level Further Maths.

Rewritten: The number of students taking Further Maths has risen by a staggering 115%!

Extra Information: The number of students taking Further Maths A-Level has risen from about 5,500 to about 11,500.

Massive 33% increase ...
In the 1990s, an average rainy day in Manchester produced more than 6mm of rain.
In the first half of the 20th century, 4.5mm of rain fell in Manchester on an average rainy day.

Rewritten: Massive 33% increase in rain in Manchester!

Extra Information: The average rainfall on a rainy day in Manchester has increased from 4.5mm to 6mm. It would also be useful to know whether there are the same number of rainy days - it may just be that the rain is falling in more concentrated bursts.

... by a punishing 14%!
In January 2010, VAT rose to 20%
From 1991, VAT at 17.5% was added to the selling price of many items.

Rewritten: From 1991 to 2010 VAT tax has risen by a punishing 14%!

Extra Information: The rate of VAT has rose from 17.5% to 20%.


Headline writers are likely to write headlines in this manner because they are more sensational, which makes people more likely to want to read the newspaper. If they don't give much information then the reader wants to find out more.

Thank you and well done to Daniel and Anna for their solutions.