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Cleaning Up Data Visualization

Data visualization, or the use of charts and other graphics to present data, is a powerful tool for conveying information to an audience. However, not everyone knows how to get the most out of this tool. By staying focused on the specific goals of each presentation, emphasizing critical information, avoiding unnecessary embellishments, and removing chart junk, it is possible to achieve superior results.

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When making a chart, it is essential to have a clear idea of what information they are supposed to impart. Chart junk refers to any elements that are redundant to the purpose of the graphic and can include grid lines, chunky data points, and excessive emphasis colors (EMC Corporation, 2014). Eliminating such elements makes it easier to examine graphics while helping emphasize points of interest by maximizing white space.

Optimizing data visualization also means striving for a higher data-ink ratio. In other words, the largest possible part of the graphic must be used to communicate data, as opposed to being taken up with unnecessary decorative elements. Similarly, it is best to avoid overcomplicated graphics such as three-dimensional charts, which are harder to read properly. More straightforward and clear graphics are more comfortable to look at and effective in conveying information.

To produce a clear data visualization, one must select a message and the best means for reinforcing it. Depending on objectives, different means of graphing the data can be useful. For example, one chart can depict two trends as two different lines, while another can track the difference between them in one line. Titles, labels, and legends are necessary parts of data visualization but should be carefully picked to be relevant and concise. If lighter tones are used for most of the visuals, brighter colors can be employed to emphasize the most critical parts of the presentation.

Using data visualization effectively requires a clear understanding of the presentation’s goals. If the graphic is meant to inform about a specific situation or trend, it must be as free as possible from all elements that do not advance this goal. That means not only removing unnecessary embellishments and clutter but also deciding what information to present and how to frame it. Text and color can both be used to create an optimal context that would impart and emphasize the necessary information.


EMC Corporation. (2014). The endgame, or putting it all together [PDF document].

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