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Storytelling with Data: A Data Visualization Guide for Business Professionals by Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic

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chapter 1 the importance of context

This may sound counterintuitive, but success in data visualization does not start with data visualization. Rather, before you begin down the path of creating a data visualization or communication, attention and time should be paid to understanding the context for the need to communicate. In this chapter, we will focus on understanding the important components of context and discuss some strategies to help set you up for success when it comes to communicating visually with data.

Exploratory vs. explanatory analysis

Before we get into the specifics of context, there is one important distinction to draw, between exploratory and explanatory analysis. Exploratory analysis is what you do to understand the data and figure out what might be noteworthy or interesting to highlight to others. When we do exploratory analysis, it’s like hunting for pearls in oysters. We might have to open 100 oysters (test 100 different hypotheses or look at the data in 100 different ways) to find perhaps two pearls. When we’re at the point of communicating our analysis to our audience, we really want to be in the explanatory space, meaning you have a specific thing you want to explain, a specific story you want to tell—probably about those two pearls.

Too often, people err and think it’s OK to show exploratory analysis (simply present the data, all 100 oysters) when they should be showing explanatory (taking the time to turn the data into information that can be consumed ...

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