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What’s more frustrating than trying to interpret lots of data?

Trying to interpret that data in a confusing graphic form.  Looking at a graphic is the supposedly easier way to understand the point, right? Whoever came up with the phrase “A picture is worth a thousand words” might also have been a statistician. You’ve got to make sure that the data you represent with charts, graphs, pies, bubbles, lines, rainbows, you name it, actually makes sense to your audience.

Here are few ways you can do that:
(from Prof. Jim Lee’s presentation: “How much is a picture worth?”) 

1. Encourage the eye to compare data.

This means avoid lots of white space, use the same color if you can, and try using shades to show intensity.

2. Follow some of Edward Tufte’s advice.

Edward Tufte is a statistician who knows a thing or two about data visualization. His fundamental rule of efficient graphical design is to minimize the ratio of ink-to-data.
He even has a formula for this:

data-ink ratio = data ink/ total graphic ink (the closer to 1.0 the better)

Basically, don’t add more to your graphical data than you need to.

3. Consider pie and bar charts – is it the shape or number that tells you information? Be wary of distorted shapes that can throw your audience off.

4. If you’re going to use a pie chart…make sure it adds up to 100%.  This is a more common mistake than you think.

5.  When adding graphics to your text, clearly indicate the graphic location. Provide explanations with appropriate citations that support the existence and details of the relationships.  Explain the overall behavior of the model or the themes in the graphic that add to the understanding of the discussion.

Don’t leave your audience hanging or trying to interpret your simple graphic like it’s an abstract painting. Be clear in what you’re trying to say! (Like the true pie graph above.)

More tips on data visualization to come!

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