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 a ton of power packed into these short bits of text we have to work with.

Most commonly, we don’t take advantage of this power, however. Usually we see zero point graphs that look like this: ChartTitleBeforeWhy do we do this to our readers? They are looking at our graphs because they want to know what we think about student volunteering and leadership but we are refusing to tell them what we think. We probably do this because when we create a graph in Excel, it produces a two-word Chart Title placeholder and we are subconsciously urged to be similarly obtuse and generic. Zero points, yo.

This version would get one point for the title checklist item and two points for the subtitle checklist item: ChartTitlePartialIts improved in that the chart title is in the upper left, where our eyes (in Western culture) would want to begin reading. I also added a subtitle, which gives some helpful information and allows the reader to draw some conclusions about (at least part) of the data.

Even better? This one: ChartTitleAfterTwo more adjustments bring this graph to full points for the first two items on the data visualization checklist: 1) Making the title a declarative sentence. Its adds interpretive power for the reader, who would otherwise think “Cool graph, dog, but does this mean we are good or bad or what?” This way the reader understands the graph’s main takeaway point. Things are looking good. 2) An annotation under the first bar. This additional point brings massive action-oriented support to the graph. If 97% of close friends volunteered, but only 74% of survey-takers volunteered, the annotation draws attention to an opportunity that this fictitious nonprofit can build into it’s next strategic plan.

And that’s how you leverage the little bits of text in a graph to make it a powerful tool for decision-makers.

Ann and I are posting examples of charts that do and do not meet the checklist points. Check them out if you need an illustration.

Ann’s post today shows how to fully score a graph using the checklist, particularly focusing on text direction.

Did you remake a chart based on the checklist? If so, I’d LOVE to see it. Email me

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