Tell me a story: Working out what’s interesting in your data


Data alone is not very accessible. However it is a great fundament to build on. To create information from data it needs to be made tangible. Telling a story with the data is the most straightforward way to do this.

To tell a story with you data you need to figure out certain questions. Why would someone be interested in your story? Who is the someone? How does that someone connect or interact with you data?

The process

The process of telling a story with data is very similar to this track. It includes

  1. Finding Data – find the data that is suitable to answer your question
  2. Wrangle the Data – bring it to a format that is useable
  3. Merge Datasets – Bring different datasets together
  4. Filter and sort the Data – Pick the data that is interesting
  5. Analyze Data – Is there something to it?
  6. Visualize Data – If there is something interesting in the data how can we best showcase it to others?

Finding a Story in Data

Sometimes you will start out to explore a dataset with a given question in mind. Sometimes you start with a dataset and want to find a story hidden in it. In both cases visualizing the data will be helpful to find the interesting parts. A good way to discover stories is to have interactive visualizations. Live bubble charts are great to do so -since we can compare multiple values at once.

Making the data relevant and close to issues that people care about is one of the hardest things to get right, and the best way to learn is to look for inspiration from people who are really good at it. Here’s a small list to start you thinking:

  • Making a policy point with impact: Hans Rosling has made a career out of his theatrical way of bringing data about Global Development Data to life. His are now amongst the most watched TED talks. In the recipes section, you will learn how to make interactive bubble diagrams such as the ones he displays here.

  • Data Driven Journalism: If you want to get the hang of data storytelling, take a lesson from the people it comes naturally to: journalists. The Data Journalism Handbook highlights some of the best data stories and details how and why they were produced in the words of leading Data Journalists from around the world.
  • Storytelling for campaigns: Tactical Technology Collective have produced an excellent guide to how to target visual information to get your message across and correctly target your audience. Visualising Information for Advocacy teaches people to identify how much detail a reader desires or requires, so that people are neither overwhelmed or bored by the the amount of data they are given. They group information design around three basic principles. Your approach should be targeted at whether your audience wants to: Get the idea, Get the picture or Get the detail). They also give some great examples of visual campaigns with real impact.
  • Making data personal: Who are you trying to connect to when you present your data? Will the average citizen be able to relate to spending numbers of the UK government in billions, or would it be more helpful to break them down into numbers that they can relate to and mean something to them? For example, Where Does My Money Go? shows the user, on a daily basis, how much tax they contribute to various spending areas and presents the user with numbers they can better relate to.

Telling the story

Once you’re through the steps: How do you frame your data? How do you provide the context needed? What format are you going to chose? It could be an article, a blog post, an infographic, or an interactive website dedicated to just this problem. The formats vary as do the ways to tell your story. So what format you pick also depends on who you are and what you want to tell. Are you with a NGO and want to use the data for a campaign? Are you a journalist and want to use the data with a story? Are you a researcher trying to make sense of a research data? Or just a curious blogger looking for interesting things? You will have different audiences and different means to tell your story. Don’t be afraid to share your work with friends and colleagues early – they can give you great insight on how to improve your presentation and story.

Task: What stories can be told from the World Bank data and can you identify additional information or data to tell better stories?

Publishing your results online

Once you’ve gone to all of the effort of finding the juicy parts in your data – you’re ready to get your results online. Many services allow easy ways to embed visualisations & data, such as iframes which you can copy and paste into a blog or website. However, if you are not given an easy way to get your material online, we’ve put together a quick recipe to help you publish your results directly as a webpage.


Throughout the Data Fundamentals series we started out acquiring and storing a dataset in a spreadsheet, exploring it and calculating new values, visualizing and finally telling a story about it. Of course there is much more to data than we covered in this basic course. You won’t be on your own though the School of Data is here to help. Now go out, look at what others have done and explore data!

You’ve finished Data Fundamentals

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Last updated on Sep 02, 2013.