Communicating Data Clearly

Design Room 204
Tutorial Please note: to attend, your registration must include Tutorials on Tuesday.
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This tutorial begins by reviewing human perception and our ability to decode graphical information. It continues by:

  • Ranking elementary graphical perception tasks to identify those that we do the best.
  • Showing the limitations of many common graphical constructions.
  • Demonstrating newer, more effective graphical forms developed on the basis of the ranking.
  • Providing general principles for creating effective graphs, as well as metrics on the quality of graphs with a checklist of possible defects.
  • Commenting on software packages that produce graphs.
  • Comparing the same data using different graph forms so the audience can see how understanding depends on the graphical construction used.
  • Discussing Trellis Display (a framework for the visualization of multivariate data) and other innovative methods for presenting more than two variables.
  • Presenting Mosaic Plots and other graphical methods for categorical data.

Since scales (the rulers along which we graph the data) have a profound effect on our interpretation of graphs, the section on general principles contains a detailed discussion of scales including:

  • To include or not to include zero?
  • When do logarithmic scales improve clarity?
  • What are breaks in scales and how should they be used?
  • Are two scales better than one? How can we distinguish between informative and deceptive double axes?
  • Can a scale “hide” data? How can this be avoided?

The tutorial concludes with before and after examples that are appropriate for the audience.

Participants will learn to:

  • Present data more effectively in all media.
  • Understand principles of effective simple graphs to build upon when creating interactive or dynamic displays.
  • Become more critical and analytical when viewing graphs.
  • Recognize misleading and deceptive graphs.
Photo of Naomi Robbins

Naomi Robbins


Naomi B. Robbins is the author of Creating More Effective Graphs, first published by John Wiley (2005). She also blogs on effective graphs for She is a consultant, keynote speaker, and seminar leader who specializes in the graphical display of data. She trains employees of corporations and organizations on the effective presentation of data with customized programs. She also reviews documents and presentations for clients, suggesting improvements or alternative presentations as appropriate. Naomi received her Ph.D. in mathematical statistics from Columbia University, M.A. from Cornell University, and A.B. from Bryn Mawr College. She had a long career at Bell Laboratories before forming NBR, her consulting practice.


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