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If this is the question, what is the best graph to provide an answer?

If this is the question, what is the best graph to provide an answer?

How to tell effective stories using graphs

I recently presented a 1-hour webinar on this topic, which was extremely well received by the participants from all over the world.

I explained how to best tell a story using graphs, especially in a virtual world.

What the audience valued was the expert insight in what to do, and what not to do when trying to tell a story.

As you will know, there are lots of packages and method to share graphs on dashboards: Excel, Google sheets, PowerBI, Tableau, JMP, Minitab, Dev-Ops, etc. When I look at those dashboards though, I observe common issues: “Are these graphs actually helping to answer the question?”

Let’s start with the basics of a graph

Ensure that all graphs look the same, have titles without acronyms, a legend, easy numbers to understand and units of measure.

Understand the relationship between: data, creator, audience

It is key to understand these three elements:

  1. Audience: who is the audience for this graph, what is their experience and level of understanding of the graph you have created, what are the typical questions they ask?
  2. Data: which data will help answer their questions, what is the quality of the data, how is it sampled, do I trust it?
  3. Creator: how do you best create a graph to answer the question, do you have one or many creators, are they all trained in the same graphs, what is their level of understanding of different graphs?

Are they explanatory, exploratory or hybrid graphs?

  • An explanatory graph is used to explain a known answer to an audience.  These graphs are often simple in design.
  • An exploratory graph is used to discover an answer.  The question is known, but not the answer.  Often these graphs are more complex and have the ability to do stratification.
  • A hybridexploratory explanation graph used for both.  In dashboards, I see these often as they are so easy to create.  However, their major drawback is that the user has to manually manipulate the graph to get to the answer to their question.

So where do you start? First, understand the question, then select the tool

This infographic first focuses on the question and then suggests which graph is the best to help answer it.  Keep asking yourself: ” if this is the question, what is the best graph to provide an answer?”


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