Data Visualization Overview

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What is data visualization?

When representing a circle, a visualization is much clearer than a verbal description.

Data visualization is the visual representation and presentation of data to enhance understanding. When stakeholders see data presented visually, they are better able to grasp difficult concepts, identify new patterns, or more efficiently take away key messages.

Why is data visualization important?

Because of the way the human brain processes information, people find using visuals to represent large amounts of complex data is easier than poring over spreadsheets or reports. Data visualization is an essential aspect of effectively communicating data and findings.

How is data visualization being used?

Regardless of industry or size, all types of organizations are using data visualization to help make sense of their data. Here’s how.

  • Comprehend information quickly. By using visual representations, state and local data users are able to see large amounts of data in clear, cohesive ways – and draw conclusions. Because it’s significantly faster to analyze information in visual form (as opposed to in spreadsheets), state and local program staffs can address problems or answer questions in a more timely manner.
  • Identify relationships and patterns. Even extensive amounts of complicated data start to make sense when presented visually, and data users can recognize patterns and relationships in the data. Identifying those relationships helps data users dig deeper and ask better questions about the data.
  • Pinpoint outliers and potential data quality issues. Using data visualization makes it easier to spot outliers and identify a potential data quality issue before it becomes a bigger problem.
  • Communicate the story to others. Once a data user has uncovered new insights from data analysis, she or he needs to communicate those insights to others. Using effective data visualization to tell the data story is essential to engaging stakeholders and supporting understanding and action.

General Resources

The resources below were used to create the toolkit and are good supplements to the information found in it.

Chart with Purpose
In this first of three 30 minute data visualization talks from the DaSy Center, presenters define data visualization and address five common pitfalls when creating charts.

Data Visualization Checklist
This four-page PDF from Stephanie Evergreen and Ann K. Emery offers guidelines for developing high impact data visualizations. It allows users to self-assess how well they’ve addressed elements of text, arrangement, color, lines, and overall appearance. There is also an interactive version of the checklist that allows users to upload a data display and receive feedback based on the checklist.

Three Lessons to Meaningfully Engage Stakeholders
This video presentation shares lessons learned from the development of Understood, an organization that seeks to engage and support parents of children with learning and attention issues. The video discusses how to understand your audience and continuously improving how you engage stakeholders and use their feedback.

Data Visualization: A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Numbers
This 2014 webinar hosted by the DaSy Center explores the why’s, what’s and how’s of visualizing data. Approaches that some states have used to display data in innovative and visually interesting ways as a means to better understand and communicate data are presented.

Show Me the Data – Data Visualization and Presentation Webinar Series
This 2015 webinar series hosted by the IDEA Data Center (IDC) introduces the basics of data design and includes specific instructions for creating effective data displays.

Evergreen Data Blog
Stephanie Evergreen’s blog on intentional reporting and data visualization highlights practical, research-based visualization and design approaches.

508 Compliance Tools
This blog post by Stephanie Evergreen provides color, text, and navigation tools for testing whether your data visualization meets 508 compliance guidance.

Ann K. Emery’s Data Analysis + Visualization Blog
This blog provides ideas and detailed instructions for selecting appropriate chart types, applying best practices to your charts, and more.

American Evaluation Association Data Visualization & Reporting TIG
This website offers resources, training, tools, and examples of effective data visualization.

Data Visualizations for Early Warning Systems
This video from the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) program shares specific practices for creating visualizations that clearly communicate actionable early warning system data.