Visualize Data

Data visualization is a hot topic in education and research as well as business. We are all swimming in data these days, but the information in that data simply won’t be evident without good visualization techniques, as David McCandless demonstrates in his full TED talk from our Films on Demand collection.

Visualization is a kind of answer, and thus derives from the quality of the questions asked of data, and the quality of the data itself. Columbia University professor Kaiser Fung provides clear explanations of data visualization principles on his blog, Junk Charts.

Explore these inspiring examples: Hans Rosling was a physician who developed brilliant data visualizations to campaign for world health initiatives. Rosling’s best TED Talks are now in a playlist. Edward Tufte is Professor Emeritus of political science, statistics, and computer science at Princeton and a pioneer in making data understandable. On his website are examples of his work and links to some of his essays on visualization, including his famous rants about bad use of PowerPoint.

There are well-known pitfalls to presenting data in graphic format. The website wtf-viz  (also wtf-viz on Tumblr) collects bad graphs of all kinds, crowd-sourced. These include network, flowchart, and block diagrams gone awry, along with poor quantitative representations. The archive is searchable by hashtag (#pie charts) or you can browse thumbnails in the archive by month. There are some great examples here for classroom discussion!

On her blog Storytelling with Data Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic, a former financial risk assessor, shares best practices for presenting and explaining business data. She not only reveals tips for manipulating Excel charts, but also how to lay out data in presentations (not on a single page or slide, usually). Knaflic’s collected blog posts are published in an eponymous book available in our Ebook Central Collection.

We also have manuals and cookbooks for popular programs used to visualize data, from small sets to Hadoop. In IvyCat, do a keyword search for “data visualization” as a phrase, or search the subject “information visualization – computer programs,” to bring up a list. Most of these are eBooks.

The programs discussed include Google Sheets and MicroSoft Excel, which are available to all IvyTech students, faculty, and staff. The program R is free ; and NodeXL is a free social network analysis add-in for Excel.  Many of these are just applications using HTML. D3.js is free and open source. Google Charts allows users to plug in their own data to generate and customize charts, plots, and maps of all kinds for websites.

(Please note, the author, the Library, and Ivy Tech are not responsible for user experiences, and Ivy Tech does not allow the installation of software on college computers without authorization.)

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