Chapter 16 Tell and Show Your Data Story

For our concluding chapter, we’ll draw on knowledge and skills you’ve developed while reading this book and offer some final recommendations for creating true and meaningful data stories. Here we emphasize storytelling. The goal of data visualization is not simply to make pictures about numbers, but also to craft a truthful narrative that convinces readers how and why your interpretation matters.

Writers have an old saying—“show, don’t tell”—which means to let readers experience a story through the actions and feelings of its characters, rather than narration by the author. But we take a different stance, as shown in our chapter title: “tell and show” your data story. Make a regular habit of these three steps: tell your audience what you found that’s interesting in the data, show them the visual evidence to support your argument, and remind us why it matters. In three words: tell—show—why. Whatever you do, avoid the bad habit of showing lots of pictures and leaving it up to the audience to guess what it all means. Because we rely on you, the storyteller, to guide us on a journey through the data and what aspects deserve our attention. Describe the forest, not every tree, but point out a few special trees as examples to help us understand how different parts of the forest stand out.

In this chapter, you’ll learn how to build visualizations into the narrative of the storyboard that we started at the beginning of the book. Also, you will try out ways to draw attention to what’s most meaningful in your data through text and color, as well as how to acknowledge sources and uncertainty. Finally, we’ll discuss decisions you will need to make about the format of your data story, with our continual emphasis on sharing interactive visualizations rather than static images.51

  1. Our inspiration for this chapter is drawn from excellent books by visualization experts Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic and Alberto Cairo: Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic, Storytelling with Data: A Data Visualization Guide for Business Professionals, 1 edition (Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley, 2015); Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic, Storytelling with Data: Let’s Practice! (John Wiley & Sons, 2019),; Cairo, The Truthful Art, 2016; Cairo, How Charts Lie, 2019↩︎