Fundamentals of Data Visualization

Fundamentals of Data Visualization: A Primer on Making Informative and Compelling Figures 1st Edition

If you are a scientist, an analyst, a consultant, or anybody else who has to prepare technical documents or reports, one of the most important skills you need to have is the ability to make compelling data visualizations, generally in the form of figures. Figures will typically carry the weight of your arguments. They need to be clear, attractive, and convincing. The difference between good and bad figures can be the difference between a highly influential or an obscure paper, a grant or contract won or lost, a job interview gone well or poorly. And yet, there are surprisingly few resources to teach you how to make compelling data visualizations. Few colleges offer courses on this topic, and there are not that many books on this topic either. (Some exist, of course.) Tutorials for plotting software typically focus on how to achieve specific visual effects rather than explaining why certain choices are preferred and others not. In your day-to-day work, you are simply expected to know how to make good figures, and if you’re lucky you have a patient adviser who teaches you a few tricks as you’re writing your first scientific papers.

In the context of writing, experienced editors talk about “ear”, the ability to hear (internally, as you read a piece of prose) whether the writing is any good. I think that when it comes to figures and other visualizations, we similarly need “eye”, the ability to look at a figure and see whether it is balanced, clear, and compelling. And just as is the case with writing, the ability to see whether a figure works or not can be learned. Having eye means primarily that you are aware of a larger collection of simple rules and principles of good visualization, and that you pay attention to little details that other people might not.


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