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The tools and discipline of data storytelling

February 14, 2019

When we start school we are given a pencil.

 

Over the next few years we learn to master this tool.

 

But this does not make us an artist or an author.

 

Mastery of a tool does not equate to mastery of a discipline.

 

 

The discipline of data storytelling

 

The same can be said about data storytelling. Software knowledge doesn’t always equate to knowledge of data storytelling (I define a data story simply as “a story supported by data”).

 

There are loads of data visualisation tools available today; many free to use, easy to access (browser-based), and with intuitive user interfaces. But data visualisation is just one part of data storytelling.

 

Data storytelling is usually made up of multiple data visualisations, connected through narrative.

 

Effective data storytelling requires tools capable of visualising data and communicating narrative.

 

A few data visualisation tools have evolved to enable better communication of the insights they visualise:

 

 

Yellowfin BI
 

 

 

Flourish

 

 

Most data visualisation tools don’t have an inbuilt data story canvas, but they do make it easy to embed their visuals elsewhere.

 

Therefore, the tools are not limiting our data storytelling ability. It’s awesome Yellowfin BI and Flourish have created environments where incorporating narrative is easier - and I hope more will follow their lead! But if we really wanted to hack it (or embed data visualisations elsewhere) we could. So why don’t we?

 

 

What is holding us back from telling good data stories is our ability to write them in the first place.

 

It's like we’ve been given fancy coloured pencils with little understanding of how to arrange what we draw with them...

 

When we start a job we are given a data visualisation tool. 

 

Over the next few years we learn to master this tool.

 

But this does not make us a data storyteller.

 

Mastery of a tool does not equate to mastery of a discipline. 

 

 

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