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How beautiful is your data set?

Do you miss the days when the most important part of your book report was the cover?  As a child you instinctively knew that  beautifully designed illustrations enhance the audience’s appreciation. But sadly college-level papers and reports generally do not include graphic covers. You can, however, still remain devoted to beautiful visualizations that strengthen your readers’ understanding by incorporating well designed graphs, maps and charts into your work.

Cutting edge cultural thinkers such as David McCandless have championed the power of data visualization in books and TED talks.  The Obama administration has made the public availability of interactive data via a linchpin in improving government efficiency as well as fostering transparency in government. Enthusiasm for the power of data, the rise of digital new content and above all data visualization software and  has even spawned a new career track:  data journalism.

Many library databases offer simple interactive data visualization tools.  One of the early adopters was Statistical Datasets (Proquest).  The topics covered by this database are eclectic ranging from air quality data to personal bankruptcy figures to state and local expenditures.  Even pet ownership patterns are documented.  Statistical Datasets allows users to chart or map almost any data set and export visualizations as a PDFs or images.  Using graphed or mapped data, questions inevitably bubble up to the surface.  Why, for example, do folks in New Mexico love their birds so and what makes Alaskans so fond of their cats?

Passport GMID from Euromonitor recently added dynamic visualization applications.  This  narrowly focused global business database raises as many interesting questions as it  helps to solve with its  marketing visualizations.   For instance when looking at a  winners-and-losers graph for consumer packaged goods, one can’t help but wonder:  Why is it that high tar cigarettes are an absolute category winner while smoking tobacco of all kinds is a clear loser?

Smoking Tobacco Losing Absolute Value High Tar Cigarettes Winning Absolute Value

Other library subscription data sources don’t yet support mapping but simply offer charting with line, bar or pie graphs.  Economist Intelligence Unit Market Indicators and Forecasts, International Monetary Fund Statistics, Global Financial Data, and the Organization for Economic Development & Cooperation Stats fall into this category.  An astounding number of open data sources on the web offer interactive data and visualization tools.  These include World Bank Data, Principal Global Indicators, Eurostat, GapMinder for UN Millennium Development Goals and the previously mentioned

If you are working with data that is only available in tabular form, files  with .xlm or .cvs or .txt extensions,  you may benefit by using one of the open-source-data interactive visualization tools such as Many Eyes or Tableau.   Tableau Public is open source downloadable software that can be used to create interactive visualizations for web publication.  Many Eyes is an program that allows one to upload data and create visualizations hosted in the cloud.

If you simply want to  hone your Excel charting and graphing skills, the Library has ebooks such asCreate Dynamic Charts in Microsoft EXCEL 2007 and Beyond to get you started.  If you’re more interested in perfecting  your ability to convey ideas clearly, give data books such as Beautiful Visualization or The Sage Handbook of Visual Research Methods a try.



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Last Modified: February 22, 2012

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