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SHP Doctoral Grant Writing Course

This guide is a course guide for the SHP Doctoral Grant Writing course taught by Molly Rosenberg, Fall 2019. However, anyone that is interested in data visualization is free to use it!

Data Visualization

The Components of a Great Data Visualization:

It is truthful The data represented in the visualization is based on honest and thorough research.
It is functional The visualization expresses a true depiction of the data and allows people to absorb the information from the visualization in meaningful ways.
It is beautiful The visualization is visually pleasing and represents the data in an intriguing way.
It is insightful The visualization shows evidence or information about the data in a way that was not expressed before.
It is enlightening  The visualization is enlightening if it follows the first five components and the audience of the information is able to grasp and understand the message of the visualization.

How do you create a visualization which each of these components?


  • The best way to make sure that you are using truthful data, is to make sure that you are being honest with your research. Make sure that you are using reliable resources and that you are recording your data without misconceptions. Another thing to keep in mind, is that you don't want to hide any aspect of your data from your audience. If you audience notices that information from your visualization is missing, they will not find you trustworthy. 
  • In his book, The Truthful Art: Data, Charts, and Maps for Communication, Alberto Cairo explains that there are two steps to creating truthful data in your visualizations. Those steps are, being honest with your audience and avoiding self deception. Cairo says, "truthful graphics are created by people who do their best to prevail over their intellectual shortcomings and cognitive and ideological biases by applying certain critical thinking techniques" (48). In other words, make sure you understand your data and that it is honest to your research. 


  • In order for your visualization to be effective, it needs to represent your data in a way that works. Before you choose the way you want to represent your data, think of what you what the purpose of your visualization to be? After you decide on the type of visualization, make sure you critique and edit your choice as needed. For example: Is every aspect of your visualization needed? How is the visualization functioning to fulfill its purpose? Does your visualization include labels? If not, should it?

Visually Pleasing

  • Of course, a visualization needs to work and it needs to be intriguing to its viewers. It may be helpful to think about the ways that people take in information and understand images. I would recommend reading, The Functional Art: an Introduction to Information Graphics and Visualization by Alberto Cairo.


  • The visualization needs to represent the data in a way that is able to be understood by a general audience. In order to do this, you need to understand the principles of universal design. I would recommend reviewing the principles and working to include those in your work. See the universal accessibility page of this guide for more information.


  • When starting the data visualization process, think about what you want the takeaway of your visualization to be. What are you trying to teach your audience? What message is your visualization sending? Knowing this information in the beginning will help you test the outcome of your data visualization.


Suggestions for Getting to Know Your Data...

In his book, The Truthful Art: Data, Charts, and Maps for Communication, by Alberto Cairo explains that, "the process of visually exploring data can be summarized in a single sentence: find patterns and trends lurking in the data and then observe the deviations from those patterns" (152). In other words, before you start the visualization process, you want to know your data inside and out. It is important to be able to organize your data with clarity before you visualize it. This will help your audience understand the message you are trying to send. 

General Suggestions to Knowing Your Data

  • Knowing your numbers- It is very important that you take the time to know your numbers before imputing them into a visualization. In his book, The Truthful Art: Data, Charts, and Maps for Communication, Alberto Cairo recommends calculating the mean, median, mode, and range of your data. This can help you see the numbers in different ways and help minimize confusion on the part of the user. 



In his book, The Truthful Art: Data, Charts, and Maps for Communication, Alberto Cairo gives specific tips for choosing a graph to visually represent your data. When trying to choose a type of visualization for your data it is important to remember that it is a process and that is okay. There are no rules for how you should choose a visualization and no one says that you can only use one. Experiment with visualizations and see which works best for you!

Tips for Choosing a Graph:

Taken from, The Truthful Art: Data, Charts, and Maps for Communication by Alberto Cairo, pgs.124-125.



Getting to Know Your Librarians


Jamie Wittenberg

Data Management Librarian

Head, Scholarly Communications

Herman B. Wells Library E363

(812) 855-7769


Jackie Fleming

Visual Literacy and Resources Librarian

Scholars' Commons

Herman B. Wells Library W119 Office Suite (119D office)