Tell a Data Story, Not a Bedtime Story

Many projects in Higher Education (or in any business) require us to present data to decision makers to show how well our projects are doing.  We eagerly create charts, graphs and tables full of numbers to present at the big meeting.  The trouble is, how do we share all of this information in a way that doesn’t put everyone to sleep?

It is very easy for a meeting that communicates in-depth data analysis to get boring in a hurry. This can happen to us when we get caught up in the details of our data and we lose sight of the story we are trying to tell.  If we show too many data tables, charts and graphs, but leave out the story, chances are we end up standing in front of a room full of day dreamers.

Here is a quick tip we can use to make sure we tell the story behind our data:

Use captions to highlight significant points in your charts and graph:


Notice how you read the above chart in much the same way you would read a comic strip.  Comics are fun, right?  This technique helps you guide the reader along to understand the point you are trying to make in showing the chart in the first place.  Tell the story!

2 thoughts on “Tell a Data Story, Not a Bedtime Story

  1. Great idea, John. Sometimes we think we need to show all of the data points when we really just need to show the key elements of the story and give some textual clarification. I will expect to see future IIT reports annotated with “POW” and “WOW” now in true comic book fashion!

  2. I really like the arrows pointing to the most pertinent parts of the data. I often do the same type of things when showing my graphs, oscilloscope traces, etc. An arrow with an explanation helps students see what’s important right away. Otherwise, they are staring at it and not knowing what they’re looking at or what it means. Great job!

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