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Data Visualization for Writing and Communications

Data Visualization for Writing and Communications

Data visualization is important, not only to scientific researchers and software developers, but also (and increasingly) to those interested in making arguments, and presenting narratives more broadly. This guide presents some selected resources for those interested in incorporating data visualization in writing and communication projects.

For simple data visualization tasks, remember you can often use the built-in tools available in programs such as Microsoft Word or Powerpoint, or Excel (or Google's Writer, Present or Sheets) to generate graphs and charts from data.

  • Take the time to find the most up-to-date and reliable data available (see the "Finding Data" tab in this research guide for some sources of data formatted for visualization).
  • Think carefully about the data you have, your intended audience, and how your data can tell a story to that audience.  You might consider looking one of several available "chart chooser" tools online (such as this Data Visualization Catalogue by Severino Ribecca or, alternately, Andew Abela's Chart Chooser (as introduced by Michael Sandberg), to consider which sort of visualization will work best for your task. Often simple, familiar  charts: pie, line, or bar, will help you make your point most clearly.
  • A best practice is to include a citation in your infographic that points readers to the original source of the information you're presenting.

The video below provides some more quick tips on storytelling with data from Cole Nussbaumer Knaffic; please see the Visualization Learning Resources page of this guide for a link to her book on this subject.

Beginner Data Visualizaion Tools

Online design tools such as Canva and Piktochart include some simple but versatile data visualization tools. Their advantage is that they include many flexible templates that help you incorporate your visualization in professional-looking pre-designed online or print-ready formats. You can also customize these designs, or create your own from scratch.

Template-based Infographics

This image displays two infographics; the first, from Canva is titled "Technology's Impact on Child Development" and includes a group of 60 baby icons, 51 of which (85%) are red, indicating the percentage of children allowed to access digital resouces; included text reads "Recent surveys indicate that 85% of parents allow their young children access to technology; tablets, smartphones, televisions, and computers." A second graphic (from Picktochart) is entitled "Social Media Monthly Dashboard"  It presents numerical data on webiste social engagment, indicating that 30% of engagment was via Facebook, 25% via Instagram, 5% via Twitter, adn 1% YouTube. A line graph illusrates the relative leves of social engagement from these platforms between Jan 1 and Mar 31.

Intermediate Data Visualization Tools