What the Hell is Wrong with the Projector & How to Fix It


Meet a hero. This is Kailen Brooks. A few months ago, I was giving a workshop on data visualization to about 40 people at the AEA Summer Institute when pretty much everything that could have gone wrong almost did. Someone’s spilled drink ran dangerously close to my computer. My mic suddenly gave birth to terrible feedback sounds. And the projector started wiggling the image, nearly causing epileptic seizures among my audience members. Kailen and his crew to the rescue. As I set up for the second day of workshops, Kailen came by again to run me through basic projector troubleshooting in

Posted in Communicating Findings, slideshows Tagged with: , , , , ,

Adding a Benchmark Line to a Graph


This simple line packs so much power. Adding a benchmark line to a graph gives loads of context for the viewer. Here’s how to make one right inside Excel. It’s so easy you might pass out. My data table looks like this: I have my data and I have the benchmark value listed next to each. Highlight the group names and their data and insert a simple bar graph:   Then right-click on the graph and click Select Data. In that box that pops up, click the Add button to add a new series. In *that* dialogue box, select your Benchmark data.

Posted in charts, Communicating Findings Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Guest Post – Embracing Data Visualization in Evaluation: A Management Perspective

Friends! I’m so happy to have Rakesh Mohan guest blogging for me. He is one helluva guy. He is the Director of the Office of Performance Evaluations, an independent agency of the Idaho State Legislature. In other words, his eval clients are lawmakers. You ask me for examples of reporting in government – here you go! In addition to those huge tasks, Rakesh is running for president of  the American Evaluation Association (vote!) and his office received the Alva and Gunnar Myrdal Government Evaluation Award from AEA in 2011 because their evaluation work is that incredible. Read on for what Rakesh and

Posted in Communicating Findings, Uncategorized Tagged with: , , , , , ,

An Incomplete List of Females in Data Visualization

I rewrote this post 4 times, in an effort to give it a calm and professional tone. And then I thought “Ah fuck it, this is my blog and I can say whatever I want.” I’m writing this post because I just listened to an interview about data visualization. It took place among 4 men who were positioned around the globe and lasted over an hour. In that time, I didn’t hear them mention even one woman. In the references they posted, only men were listed. This post is to point attention to the awesome women in data visualization, not

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged with: , , , , , ,

How to Make Dumbbell Dot Plots in Excel


In case it wasn’t clear, I freakin love dot plots. They are amazingly easy to read, beautifully simple in their display. I was making these babies for some clients a little while ago, before and after dots for about 25 variables in one graph. And they said “Uh, hey yeah Stephanie? Could you, like, draw a tiny line between the pair of dots on each line?” >.< That was my face when I imagined painfully inserting 25 lines, perfectly aligned between the dot pairs. But I love challenges like this. Could I find a way to make Excel do this

Posted in charts, Communicating Findings Tagged with: , , , , , ,

Labels are Used Sparingly


This post is about how to avoid inducing claustrophobia in your data visualizations. Too much text on a graph clutters it up, making readers feel suffocated. So let’s address the checklist item Labels are used sparingly. Sometimes, too much text isn’t the issue. Take a look at this scatterplot, produced with Excel’s default Insert Chart option. It uses data from Radical Math and plots the percent of people of color living in each NYC area against the number of military recruits per 100,000 in those same areas. This version would score zero points because there is no intentional use of

Posted in charts, Communicating Findings Tagged with: , , , , , ,

How to Rock the Text in your Data Visualization


Very recently, Ann Emery and I released the Data Visualization Checklist. It’s thorough and its going to help your data visualization kick some serious ass. In these subsequent posts on each of our blogs, Ann and I will illustrate some of the checklist items to show how a graph can progress from 0 to 2 points. Today we tackle a graph’s title, subtitle, and annotation, the first two items on the checklist. These babies are a big deal, folks. Why? Because data visualizations typically don’t get all that much text. It’s supposed to be a visual, after all. Which means there’s

Posted in charts, Communicating Findings Tagged with: , , , , ,

Introducing the Data Visualization Checklist


This post has been a long time coming. Ann Emery and I knew some time ago that evaluators and social scientists had a thirst for better graphs, a clear understanding of why better graphs were necessary, but they lacked efficient guidance on how, exactly, to make a graph better. Introducing the Data Visualization Checklist. Download this checklist and refer to it when you are constructing your next data visualization so that what you produce rocks worlds. Use the checklist to gauge the effectiveness of graphs you’ve already made and adjust places where you don’t score full points. Make copies and

Posted in charts, color, Communicating Findings, font Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

Choosing a Color Picking Tool


Giant Wes Anderson fan writing you here. So I loved loved loved it when I saw this Wes Anderson Color Palette blog. It’s like several of my happy worlds colliding into rainbows and unicorns. The blogger pulls color palettes from scenes in various Wes Anderson movies. This screenshot is from Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. The site shows five circles of color, taken from this scene. The only frustrating part? The site doesn’t give me the means to replicate those beautiful colors! What if I want a Wes Anderson color theme in my next slideshow? This was a welcome opportunity

Posted in color, Communicating Findings Tagged with: , , , , ,

Easy Bullet Charts in Excel


Here is what a normal bullet chart looks like: There are usually areas of performance in the background (acceptable/unacceptable, in this case), a target line, and an actual bar the represents your real value. Bullet charts kick ass for showing part-to-whole relationships for single data points, especially in long lists of metrics, like dashboards. Sure, there is a bullet chart tutorial here, but I found it pretty complicated. And one here that’s fairly straightforward but, as an Excel graph, it takes some extra steps to resize or copy the graph with the data. There’s also a plug-in that makes bullet

Posted in charts, Communicating Findings, dashboard Tagged with: , , , , , ,

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In Print!

My book is out! My book is out!

Presenting Data Effectively

Published by Sage, October 2013

I coedited something!

New Directions for Evaluation

Data Visualization Part 1

Released September 20

Out now!

New Directions for Evaluation

Data Visualization Part 2

Released December 21, 2013

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