Seven different ways to visualize data beyond the pie chart

Use these tips to create beautiful and attention-grabbing stories

Melissa Tsungai Zisengwe
Nov 13 · 5 min read
Image: Trang Le/Pixabay

We recently attended a session on how to visualise data beyond using a pie chart at the 15th African Investigative Journalism Conference in Johannesburg. Two data journalism experts shared a few of these tips, that can help you visualise data into something your audience can easily understand and engage with.

Data visualisation enables journalists to show and give the audience information in a new and exciting way, to help people understand various issues. Complex stories and complex data need to be explained in a concise and clear way.

You should use data to:

  • Provide more background for your story
  • Frame your story
  • To support your claims
  • Get your message across

Alastair Otter, IT coordinator for the Global Investigative Journalism Network and Laura Grant, managing partner, Media Hack Collective presented a session focusing on ways to visualise data that journalists can apply in storytelling. We share some of those ideas here:

Participatory visualisation:

This format of data visualisation requires the audience or reader to participate in visualising the information, by simply asking them a question regarding any topic, followed by a request for them to draw on a chart to answer the question before the real answer is shown. By asking the audience to predict the data before you show them the result you engage them in the story.

Here are three examples of participatory data visualisation:

New York Times: You Draw It: Just How Bad Is the Drug Overdose Epidemic?

Media Hack: The Two-hour Marathon

SALDRU: Income comparison tool

Suggested tools to use: Datawrapper, Tableau Public, HighCharts

Emotive Storytelling:

This data visualisation method is more complex and detailed information. It combines real-world stories with mapping, as well as cinematic and interactive design to produce a personal, emotional and memorable story.

This Financial Times game, is a news game based on real reporting, including interviews with dozens of Uber drivers.

Suggested tools to use: Datawrapper, Google Fusion Tables, Infog.ram

Simple, simple

Remember, data visualisation is a form of storytelling. Keep your data visualisations simple. Sometimes something simple gets the point across. Narrow your data down and use simple visualisations in the story, for example, infographics and bar charts.

Reuters news agency set up a camera on top of their Delhi bureau office, to capture hundreds of images over October-November, historically the worst period of air quality each year in the Indian capital. The product of this experiment was “A window into Delhi’s deadly pollution” project.

Image: Reuters Graphics

The images, combined with data from a nearby monitoring station, present a bleak picture of conditions in the city of 20 million, named by the World Health Organization as the sixth-most polluted city in the world.

Suggested tools to use: Datawrapper, Canva for infographics, Piktochart, Visme, Google Charts, Infog.ram, Visualize.me

Small multiples

This format places small charts side by side to draw a comparison. Small multiples use the same basic graphic or chart to display different slices of a data set. Small multiples can show rich, multi-dimensional data without trying to cram all that information into a single, overly-complex chart.

Image: Data Viz

Example: Data to Wiz: The evolution of the bitcoin price

Suggested tools to use: Datawrapper, Google Charts, Infog.ram, Piktochart

GIFs

Graphics Interchange Formats (GIFs) are a useful way of making complex information easily understandable. A GIF is a 2–3-second animation — a dynamic collection of static images that show some form of action.

Otter worked on an article called “When dams run dry” where he used GIF to show the water shortage during late 2017 and early 2018 when Cape Town in South Africa, faced the prospect of running out of water as its major dams dried up.

You can also check out another example by the Wall Street Journal of a graphic depicting areas that were held by rebels in Ukraine between 2014 and 2015.

There are various platforms which you can make use of when creating these GIFs for your stories. Try out GIPHY and also GitHub, which provides a tutorial on how to make a multiple-photo or series GIF in Photoshop, and also how to make a video or screen-sharing GIF using Photoshop & QuickTime.

Google, The Keyword is a data visualization tool that helps content creators showcase insights in a new way.

Exploratory

This format allows audiences or readers the chance to dive deep into- and find more information on certain topics or issues. It allows the reader to dig through a lot to find important insights.

Kenya’s Daily Nation produced this data article, People killed by the police force in Kenya, depicting the number of people killed by police from 2015 up until September 2019.

Image: Daily Nation

Suggested tools to use: Datawrapper, Tableau Public, OpenRefine

Mapping

The use of mapping platforms can take your story to a whole new level. Sometimes, the best way to visualise data is through a graphic of the location/s you’ve mentioned in your article that can be enriched by using mapping. The Washington Post published this article using mapping to visualise information Transportation New driver’s license requirements are coming to U.S. airports. Is your state ready?

Take a look at this article we previously put together on platforms you can use for mappings such as Carto and Arc Online.

Suggested tools to use: Leaflet, Vega, eCharts, Datawrapper,

Aspiring data journalists and visualisers can elevate their data stories to new levels by using these techniques.

For more tips on visualising your articles, take a look at the Data Journalism Handbook.

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jamlab

The JAMLAB Newsletter is produced by Wits Journalism. The Journalism and Media Lab, Tshimologong Digitial Innovation Precinct, Johannesburg supports innovators to bring new information, new ideas and new conversations to new audiences in Africa.

Melissa Tsungai Zisengwe

Written by

Journalist at Jamlab &Civic tech-enthusiast at Civic Tech Innovation Network- Wits Journalism School.

jamlab

jamlab

The JAMLAB Newsletter is produced by Wits Journalism. The Journalism and Media Lab, Tshimologong Digitial Innovation Precinct, Johannesburg supports innovators to bring new information, new ideas and new conversations to new audiences in Africa.

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