Michael Margolis, founder of the business storytelling company Get Storied, was quoted on inc.com: “The stories we tell literally make the world. If you want to change the world, you need to change your story. This truth applies both to individuals and institutions.”

Getting to know someone new can be both a long-drawn but deeply enjoyable process. Because hidden beneath the “what do you do?” and “where are you from?” questions lies the implicit fundamental question: what’s your story? Every layer that this new person chooses to reveal is done so in different ways, from giving you access to social media accounts to sharing a secret with you.

Data sets are similar: filtering through the web of information to arrive at the core message can be done only by using the right tools for visual storytelling. After all, data is merely data until you give it meaning, but this happens only when you know your audience as well as which tools and narratives they are most receptive to.

Before you pick a tool to tell your story, think about what your data conveys. Then, pick your visual tool based on the message you wish to share.

Change over time
If you wish to talk about temporal trends, line graphs, or bar charts are a good bet. Line charts showcase potential trends in data while bar charts highlight comparison between individual values.

When highlighting comparison of categorical values, bear in mind that this type of data—such as showing a list of products—does not have an intrinsic order. Instead, use a bar chart, which compares categorical values, or use a trellis, which offers multiple views to show different partitions of a data set.

Want to accurately depict categorical values in increasing or decreasing order? A bar chart can be particularly useful because it emphasizes the top and bottom values.

Sometimes you will need to show how individual categories contribute to the whole value. To depict this type of information, use a bar chart (set it to % scale), a pie chart (compares percentage values), or a stacked bar chart (shows overall measure total).

To show how a measure is spread across its domain, consider a histogram, box plot, or scatter plot. A histogram is a column chart showing the count of binned measure values, allowing you to count the number of occurrences within your data. A box plot shows distributions for different categorical values and can be useful for identifying outliers. A scatter plot displays distribution and correlation of two measures.

To highlight a potential relationship between two measures, use a scatter plot or trellis. The former highlights potential correlation between two measures while the latter uses multiple views to show data set partitions.

To show exact values, use a table format. Tables are useful for showing multiple measures in one or two categories. Just remember to set the correct precision (number formatting) for measures included in each table, so as not to overwhelm the audience.

unclassed_choropleth_mapGeographical information and maps
To depict the geographical distribution of measure values, use a choropleth chart or a geo bubble chart. The choropleth chart highlights geographical data by coloring geographical areas according to their measure values, which is useful for location-based comparisons of standardized data. On the other hand, a geo bubble chart shows measure values in the form of bubbles on a map—the larger the measure, the larger the bubble will appear. This is useful for comparing data across entirely different geographic areas.

For more information on why data visualization is critical for your business, download the Data Storytelling Handbook.


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