Helpful math tips for journalists: ‘Math Tools for Journalists’ chapters 9-12

May 12, 2009 at 1:57 pm Leave a comment

By Patrick McCabe

Written May 12, 2009

Directional Measurements

Time, Rate and Distance

When working with time, rate and distance problems the most important thing is to keep the units of measurement the same.time_clock

If the rate is in miles per hour then the distance needs to be miles and the time needs to be hours. If anything is not the same it should be converted.


Distance= rate x time

Rate= distance/time

Time= distance/rate

Speed, velocity, acceleration, g-force and momentum

Speed and velocity are different. Speed measures how fast something is going while velocity indicates its direction. Acceleration measures how quickly something speeds and g-force is an acceleration measure. The “g” represents the normal force of gravity. Momentum is the force needed to stop an b=object in motion.


Acceleration=(ending velocity – starting velocity)/time

If a car accelerates from s=zero to 60 in 30 seconds what is the rate of acceleration?

(60 mph – 0 mph)/30 seconds = 2mph per second

Momentum= mass x velocity

What was the momentum of a race car weighing 132 kilograms when it crashed into a wall if it traveling 150 mph?

Convert mph to kilometers per hour (kph): 105 mph x 1.6= 168kph

132 kilograms x 168 kph= 22,176 kilogram kilometers per hour

Area Measurements

Journalists can use area measurements in all different types of stories. It is useful for a journalist to know how to calculate perimeter when writing articles about new developments or construction projects. Area is also important for real estate, technical, feature and sports reports. Square feet and square yards are useful when checking reports on size and circumference and radius are important for dealing with stories on circular area.


Perimeter = (2 x length) + (2 x width)

Area (squares and rectangles) = length x width

Area (triangles) = .5 base x height

Circumference = 2P x radius

Area (circles) = 2P x (radius)^2

Volume Measurements

In the business world terms like ton, barrel, box and cord take on a specific meaning. Goods are often sold in volumes. A goods measurement can vary based on the market, knowing how to measure volume is a key component to selling any good.

Liquid Volume

Liquid measurements apply to liquids in recipes, bodies of water and other fluids.


2 tablespoons = 1 fluid once

4 quarts = 1 gallon

1 U.S. standard barrel = 31.5 gallons

For finding the volume of a rectangular solid use this formula: Volume = length x width x height

Other measurements:

Cord: 128 cubic feet


            Short ton= 2,000 lbs

            Long ton= 2,240 lbs

            Metric ton= 2,204.62 lbs

The Metric System

Most Americans struggle to use the metric system yet the rest of the world uses it for every type of measurement. The metric system is an important tool for international commerce. It is based on the multiples of 10.metricchartL


Meter: basic unit for length

Mass: derived from meter and the unit for weight

Newton: unit of force


Because the metric system is based on the decimal system you can change from one unit to another simply by multiplying or dividing by any multiple of ten. Each unit is ten times as large as the next unit.

Prefixes can create larger or smaller factors when added to a unit name. The prefixes for numerical values are: 

micro (1 millionth) 0.000001
milli (1 thousandth) 0.001
centi (1 hundredth) 0.01
deci (1 tenth) 0.1
no prefix 10
deka 10
hecto 100
kilo 1,000
mega 1,000,000
giga 1,000,000,000
tera 1,000,000,000,000 

For a more in-depth explanation of the metric system click here.


Entry filed under: Math Tools. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , .

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