There are three broad categories of reasons why people ask for figures.

  • They know what they know and need evidence to support what they know. (Convenient Reasoning)
  • They know what they don’t know, and genuinely need objective evidence in support or against somebody or something. (Decision Support)
  • They don’t know what they don’t know, and are looking for somebody to tell them what they should know, or what they should do. (Exploration)

There are three questions an analyst should ask whenever they get an incomplete request for data:

  • What problem are you trying to solve?
  • Who are you trying to convince?
  • What are you going to do differently if you had the evidence?


  • Not everybody who engages in convenient reasoning is evil – they’re just building a business case – and conflicting evidence frequently isn’t welcomed or viewed as helpful.
  • Not everybody who engages in decision support is indecisive or engaging in analysis paralysis – they have a hypothesis about the world, they have an inkling that something is likely to be true, but they’re keeping an open mind.
  • Not everybody who engages in exploration is a pain in the ass. They’re trying to understand the world better and might not even have a firm idea of what the core problem they’re trying to solve yet.

I’ve done my best here to be mutually exclusive and comprehensively exhaustive.

What do you think?


I’m Christopher Berry.
I tweet about analytics @cjpberry
I write at

One thought on “The Three Reasons People Ask For Data, and The Three Questions Analysts Should Ask

  1. Jen says:

    This is interesting – glad I didn’t miss it. I think I struggle because many people I talk to are positively starving for data and they need it for all these reasons. And they need it every day/week/month. AND THERE’S NO TIME. In the first year I was here I tried all the best practice I learned from reading and studying and I’ve found myself basically still at the drawing board. I guess this sounds like a whiny comment, but I do not mean it that way. Maybe I need to try harder to get the data starved to slowly chew or -new analogy- crawl before they walk or somesuch. Hmm.

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