They say a picture is worth a thousand words. In terms of getting your message across quickly, that’s true. Here are three rules to developing your skills in representing data visually.

A Picture is Worth 1000 Words

Know your data.

You must understand your data before you share it. Is it numeric? Geospatial? Text? Time series? All of the above? Numeric data usually works best in bar charts, line graphs are great for changes over time, choropleths work great with geospatial data.

Does your data have outliers, things that just don’t make sense? Spreadsheets often have data entry typos, so make sure your data is clean and accurate before you create a visualization. Bad data = bad visualizations.

Make sure people who look at your visualization know that you used reliable data to create it by including a reference to the source of the information.

Know your message.

Your visualization answers a question about the data. You need to decide what that question is, and then determine the best way(s) to present the answer visually.

Here’s a fantastic example of a visualization that answers the question “How did America vote in the last presidential election?” It makes it easy to see not only how people voted but also where they live and how their votes were clustered. Most importantly, it follows the third rule.

2016 Election Map

Keep it simple.

When charting your data, it’s tempting to use all the tools in your toolbox. But the best visualizations are simple. Not everyone is an expert at reading charts, so it’s best to make it as easy as possible on your audience.

For example, using lots of color makes charts pretty, but 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women (about 4.5% of the total population) is color blind, so your pretty colors don’t help them understand your visualization at all.

Also remember that most people get their news (including charts) on mobile devices these days, so your visualization needs to work on a screen as small as a smartphone’s.

To the right is a great example of how someone took a reasonably simple chart about how teens use Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, and made it even simpler to read.

As you can see from all the links and examples in this post, there’s a ton of information available on the internet. Like all things on the internet, some is good information and some is not so good. Here are some helpful links to get you started.

Do you love graphs and charts? Are you passionate about communicating information in an efficient and effective way? UMHB’s Department of Communication and Media Studies seeks to produce graduates who can think critically, reason morally, and write with precision and impact to audiences of all types. We invite you to visit our website for more info, or stop by for a visit!