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Research Data Management: Data visualisation

Data Visualisation

• Communicate a point or a finding revealed in your analysis
• To add legitimacy or credibility, tell stories with numbers
• Better understand the data you gathered
• Data more persuasive when shown in graphs or visualisations
• To inspire others into action
• Effective data visualisation can increase the impact of your research and your engagement effort



• lists of data items, organized by a single feature (e.g., alphabetical order)
(not commonly visualised)


2D/Planar (incl. Geospatial)

• Choropleth

• Cartogram

• Dot distribution map

• Proportional symbol map

• Contour/isopleth/isarithmic map

• Dasymetric map

• Self-organizing map


• 3D computer models

• Surface and volume rendering

• Computer simulations


• Timeline

• Time series

• Connected scatter plot

• Gantt chart

• Stream graph/ThemeRiver

• Arc diagram

• Polar area/rose/circumplex chart

• Sankey diagram

• Alluvial diagram




Pie chart Bar chart                                            

Radial bar chart

Wordletag cloud

Area chart/stacked graph

Tree map

Heat map

Scatter plot Parallel coordinates
Bubble chart

Radar/spider chart

Line chart

Box and whisker plot

Step chart

Mosaic display

Unordered bubble chart/bubble cloud

Waterfall chart


•General tree visualization


Radial tree

Hyperbolic tree

Tree map

Wedge stack graph (radial hierarchy)/sunburst

•Icicle/partition chart




Node-link diagram

•Dependency graph/circular hierarchy

Hive plot

Alluvial diagram

Sources: (Permission received from Angela Zoss, the creator of this guide, to reuse some of the content) 


Data cleaning

Statistical analysis 

Qualitative analysis

Data Visualisation tools and applications

Code help


Temporal data analysis

Text/Word clouds


Social and other network analysis 

Know your audience

Consider the audience’s level of:

  • Literacy: You can use symbols, illustrations, animations and other universally understood graphics
  • Numerical literacy: Even educated audiences are not always comfortable with data and stats. Do they understand ratios, complex formulas or statistics. Or do they need simplified data?
  • Education/Level of technical expertise: Simplify content and define terms for less technical audiences but provide more detail for those with expertise
  • Job function: What is the purpose of your data visualisation? Academics will want to know how data fits into existing literature. Funders will want to see results compared to money spent. An executive will want high-level results to guide decisions. A programme manager may only be interested in data relevant to their specific topic/area.


Find the story

Data Visualisation as storytelling

  • Think of your data visualisation message as a thesis statement which needs a summary in a few concise sentences
  • The ability to create a compelling, visual argument will be greater if you begin with a clear and focused message
  • The type of story you tell affects the platform you will use.
  • Infographics might be more useful for persuading the audience of your point of view, where dashboards leave the interpretation to the audience.
  • Animations may be effective for college students, but not amongst older adults.


Use colour effectively

How to choose colours:

Step 1: Decide what the colours will represent

Decide which aspects of your data you want to represent with colour.

Step 2: Understand your data scale

The ColorBrewer tool defines three types of scale:

  • Sequential – when data values go from low to high
  • Divergent – when data has data points at both ends of the scale, with an important pivot in the middle.
  • Qualitative – when the data does not have an order of magnitude.

Step 3: Decide how many hues you need

Based on the scale you chose in step 2, you can decide how many hues you need in the palette:

  • Sequential data usually requires one hue, using luminance or saturation to define scale.
  • Divergent data requires two hues, decreasing in saturation or luminance towards a neutral (usually white, black or gray).
  • Qualitative data requires as many hues as values, but remember the limitations of the human brain. Try to not use more than seven or eight colours, otherwise the brain cannot recall what each one represents.

Step 4: Look for obvious options

Before getting too creative, take a look at your data to see if there’s an obvious set of colours.

Your application or corporate style guide might be a good starting point. 

Step 5: Create your palette

Use one of the many web resources. ColorBrewer is one of the best for picking schemes for sequential, diverging and qualitative data. Or if you have a starting point in mind, Adobe Color creates palettes from a single colour.

There are several groups of colours that work well together. You can identify them by their relative positions on the colour wheel:

  • Monochromatic – shades of a single hue (sequential data).
  • Analogous colours – colours that sit beside each other on the colour wheel (varied alternative for sequential data).
  • Complementary colours – from opposite sides of the colour wheel (diverging data).
  • Triadic colours – 3 colours equally spaced around the wheel (good starting point for a qualitative palette).