What is Data Visualization – Telling Stories With Data

As the saying goes, a picture can speak a thousand words. That’s the basic concept of data visualization. Data visualization is the representation of data in the form of charts and graphs. With the world turning data-driven, one can get really creative with visualizing data, say, convey it in the form of a story. Who doesn’t love stories? Storytelling has been a form of sharing and preserving information for decades. 

Look at our history textbooks, for example, there are enough charts and maps and diagrams represented, that are beautifully explained in form of stories and tales, that stick more to our minds than just normal texts of paragraphs would.

Now you might be thinking why do we need a story if data can stand alone? To answer that, data and stories are something that compliments one another. A visual representation of data may seem abstract at first glance to the audience. Hence it is necessary to translate it into digestible parts that can be easily grasped by the audience. The easier it looks, the simpler it would be for the readers to understand.

The whole concept of data visualization is to make complex data easier, so when telling a story keep that in mind and proceed with the narration.   

Steps to tell a story through data the right way

  • Understanding the audience

Explaining your context is the base of any story written. And to tell your story right, one should know who they’re communicating to, what do they want the readers to know, and how to make their point clear. 

Try to explain your data in as simple details as you can, that even the laziest person will read it whole. Instead of complicating it with fancy words or so, write shorter texts in charts and graphs, that your audience can skim through and get the gist of the whole chart.  

  • Use the right type of graph or chart

There are enough charts and graphs available out there but only a minority of them will fit into the majority of your needs. Many times we don’t even need a graph or chart but a simple table might do better at conveying the data properly. Be selective in the selection of visuals representing your data.

  • Avoid too many visuals

Human brains process pictures better than texts. Too many pictures might occupy more space but the reader’s understanding of the data will not be improved, rather it might confuse the viewer and make the data appear more complicated. 

  • Draw attention

Make the content engaging enough that it draws your reader in. Highlight the main part of your story, you know what the reader is searching for here, take them through the whole concept step by step. Educate your audience in such a way that they find learning fun. The whole point of telling a story is that the reader enjoys it.

  •  Make a memorable storyline

Consider any movie that you’ve seen, whose storyline was so good that you could connect with it on an emotional level. Even after days, weeks, months or years, you would still know the story by heart. That’s the power of good narration and direction. 

When visualizing content, you’re the narrator and your data is the story. Tell your tale in such a way that it connects and communicates with the audience in a way just facts would never. A simple yet authentic story with visuals can remain engraved in minds and create a lasting impact. 

  • Keep the order right

Tell a story in its chronological order, from beginning to the end, be it in the course of days, weeks or centuries. This kind of method is helpful when dealing with data that stretches over a certain amount of time, change or trends. This not only helps represent the data points in the chart but also add the storylines between those data points. 

  • Starting with the summary

Start with an overview and then dive into the details, this will make the communication with the reader better and more effective. For example, first, display the chart or graph of the main concept, then explain that concept using sub-categories and detailed information. 

  • Insights matter

Always end the story with insight. In the end, always conclude the whole point you’ve been telling in the narrative and what readers can interpret from it. Leave them wanting for more, let them use their knowledge and your insight to draw up their own conclusions than providing a straight-up conclusion of your own. 

These are some of the many points that might help you in telling stories with data visualization. If these points did inspire you with an idea, don’t wait up! Take your imaginative pen and start creating your own stories and enrich people with the knowledge you own.  



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