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Chapter 8 Table Your Data

You might be surprised that a data visualization book which emphasizes charts and maps also includes a chapter on creating tables. We don’t normally think about data tables as a type of visualization. But depending on your data and the story you wish to tell about it, sometimes a table is the most appropriate way to present information, especially when it’s an interactive table on the web. Tables make sense when readers want to look up a specific row of data that’s highly relevant to them, such as their local community or an organization they belong to, which can be too hard to identify inside a large chart or map. Also, tables work best when readers wish to precisely compare individual values to one another, but not necessarily to the rest of the dataset. Finally, tables work better than charts when there is no broad visual pattern to emphasize, and work better than maps when there is no particular spatial pattern. Before you start designing a chart or map, consider whether it makes more sense to create a table instead. Sometimes the best visualization is simply a good table.

In this chapter, you’ll learn about table design principles and how to use Datawrapper, a tool we introduced in Chapter 6: Chart Your Data and Chapter 7: Map Your Data to create an interactive table with sparklines. Of course, if you need to quickly make a short table, then a static version usually makes sense, which you can create with a spreadsheet as described in the other table-making tools section further below. But this chapter focuses on interactive tables because they have many advantages over static tables, especially when you need to publish large amounts of tabular content online, rather than only in print. First, interactive tables allow readers to search by keyword for specific details that interest them, which is vital when you present long tables with lots of rows. Second, readers can sort interactive tables in ascending or descending order for any column, which enables them to quickly scan those near the top or bottom of a long list. Finally, you’ll also learn how to insert sparklines, or tiny charts that visually summarize data trends in each row, and automatically place them inside your interactive table. Sparklines blend the best qualities of tables and charts by making it easier for readers to visually scan for trends while skimming down columns of your data table. Later in Chapter 9: Embed on the Web, you’ll learn how to integrate your interactive table into your website.