Introducing the Data Visualization Checklist

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 slip them into your staff mailboxes.

What’s in the Checklist?
We compiled a set of best practices based on extensive research, tested against the practical day-to-day realities of evaluation practice and the pragmatic needs of our stakeholders. This guidance may not apply to other fields. In fact, we pilot-tested the checklist with a dozen data visualists and found that those who were not in a social science field found more areas of disagreement. That’s ok. Their dissemination purposes are different from ours. Their audiences are not our audiences. You, evaluator, will find clear guidelines on how to make the best use of a graph’s text, color, arrangement, and overall design. We also included a data visualization anatomy chart on the last page of the checklist to illustrate key concepts and point out terminology.

What’s Next?
Ann and I know that the best practices need more graphic examples. Over the next couple of months we will publish blog posts that depict each of these best practices and show the transition of a data visualization that scores no points to one that scores full points (so subscribe to both blogs!).

We will present the final checklist and our collection of visual examples at the American Evaluation Association’s annual conference in October. Let’s high five there!

Our presentation will be so much cooler if we can get a bit of your help. Please please please can you take a picture of your existing data visualization, apply the checklist, and then take another picture? We’d LOVE to include your before and after example in our blog posts and in our conference session. Email your redesign to me. Show people how awesome you are!

Big thanks to our pilot reviewers: James CoyleAmy GermuthChris LysyJohanna MorariuJon SchwabishDavid ShellardRob SimmonKate TinworthJeff Wasbes, and Trina Willard.

3 thoughts on “Introducing the Data Visualization Checklist
  1. Tracey Cannon says:

    Thank you for sharing this great information! I’m particularly interested in visualizations for presentation to legislators, very helpful!

  2. benita williams says:

    Hi Stephanie (and Ann)
    As part of a staff development challenge I promised lunch to the person who made the best infographic on a work related topic. I made the challenge up on the fly partly because I wasn’t sure I was going to put my good intentions to learn more about effective communication into practice. Reading lots… doing little is not all that useful when it comes to getting better at communicating, see? Suddenly as an evaluator I’m dreading the “judging” bit of the challenge. I’m planning to (probably badly) hack your dataviz checklist and your report layout checklist, and some ideas from the ppi for some criteria… unless you have / know of / can share some pointers to distinguish good infographics?

    Kind regards
    (A serial ugly PowerPoint maker and repentant communication ignoramus)

    • Stephanie Evergreen says:

      I love your honesty, Benita! I like the idea of mixing up the guidance we’ve put out so far. Much of the guidance I’ve seen around infographic development is fluffy and not grounded in any kind of research. (But please someone tell me I’m wrong.) The best infographic guidance I’ve heard is that it should tell a story. However, I think the real indicator of success is if it motivates the right thoughts or actions.

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