Skip to main content

Storytelling with Data Visualisations

By November 17, 2018June 4th, 2019No Comments

Time spent designing a survey, collecting and analysing the data is wasted if you are unable to communicate your findings. Brent Dykes advises that ones data can hold large amounts of potential value, however, this value cannot be actualised unless insights are uncovered and converted into outcomes or actions. According to Cheryl Phillips storytelling is how you create the link between the data and the reader and enables the reader to make a personal connection with the data, relate to it and remember it.

“Numbers have an important story to tell. They rely on you to give them a clear and convincing voice”
Stephen Few

What is storytelling?

Storytelling with data is much more than creating visually appealing charts and graphics. Brent Dykes defines data storytelling as “a structured approach for communicating data insights”. Storytelling is critical to working with any data according to Pete Misner as it has a conclusion, the narrative leads to a call to action.

Ryan Fuller, the Corporate Vice President of Microsoft defines data storytelling as incorporating data and visuals into a narrative which has been tailored to the audience to establish credibility in the process and confidence in the results as well as provide a set of actionable insights. Data visuals often provide the “what” but often can’t explain “why” or provide context to the data, it is the narrative that provides the context and why the data is what it is.

The elements of storytelling

Dykes believes that storytelling involves a combination of three elements: data, visuals and narrative which when combined work together to tell a story.

Graphic showing the different combinations of elements and what they do

When data is combined with the narrative it helps explain what is happening with the data and why particular insights are important. Adding visuals to the data can enlighten the audience to patterns and insights which may be hidden within a data table. These insights include clusters and outliers. By combining the narrative with visuals one is able to engage or even entertain the audience.

Purists believe that one should let data speak for itself and if the data is clear it should require no further explanation. The issue according to Lowell Dempsey is that data is very bad at speaking for itself and can lead to more questions than answers. Dempsey goes further stating that statistics without explanation are waiting to be misinterpreted.

Data provides answers with the “what” but does not answer or explain the “why” or provide any context for the data, this is provided by storytelling. Dykes points out that storytelling is a powerful way of sharing insights and ideas in a manner that is memorable, persuasive and engaging.

Graphic showing how narrative, visuals and data interact to create change


“When you combine the right visuals and narrative with the right data, you have a data story that can influence and drive change”
Brent Dykes


Lisa Morgan explains that organisations can do a lot more with their data if they are able to understand better and currently organisations may not be getting the information they require to improve decision-making.

Leave a Reply