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Home > Topics & Tools > Digital Media > Innovations > Ebook can help journalists visualize data for stories

Ebook can help journalists visualize data for stories

The free resource explains key concepts in conversational language, the project's co-organizer says.

By Catherine Payne, NAA content producer

A new ebook can make visualizing data as easy as pie -- a pie chart, that is.

"Data + Design: A Simple Introduction to Preparing and Visualizing Information," released Aug. 18, is a guide to collecting, preparing and visualizing data. Sections include data fundamentals, collecting data, getting data ready, visualizing data, and what not to do. The visualizing data section includes chapters such as the anatomy of a graphic and the importance of color, font and icons. The print vs. Web, static vs. interactive chapter looks at fresh ideas, such as creating versions of image-based graphics that look sharp on devices with retina displays.

 Anatomy of a graphic
 The book explores the anatomy of a graphic.

"What we wanted from the beginning was to help people make sense of data," says Trina Chiasson, a co-organizer of the project.

"There are so many resources for finding, collecting and using data," says Chiasson, co-founder and CEO of Infoactive, a Web-based platform that helps people make interactive infographics. "There is a lack of resources that really help people understand the basic concepts in friendly and simple language."

Co-organizer Dyanna Gregory, a Northwestern University statistical analyst, says via email, "One of the things I found to be unique to this project in comparison to work I've done before was the wide variety of individuals that came together to provide thoughts and opinions on the content, layout and design."

More than 50 volunteers from 14 countries contributed to the ebook, which started at a February write-a-thon sponsored by the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute (RJI). The ebook is also a collaboration between Infoactive and RJI. The code for the ebook, an open source project, is available on GitHub.

The ebook is available for reading as a PDF download or on the Web. Built in responsive design, it can be easily viewed on different platforms.

Chiasson, a 2013-2014 Reynolds fellow at RJI, says the ebook is free because "we want this to be a resource that anyone can use. ... We really wanted it to be about giving back to our broader data community."

The resource is handy as news organizations continue to produce graphics for print and online. About 24 percent of Americans consume online news in pictures/graphics in a week, according to the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2014.

Social media channels provide opportunities for journalists and marketers to share visual content, such as infographics. Since Twitter started supporting gifs on Twitter.com as well as on Android and iPhone devices in June, journalists and marketers can tweet animated infographics.

Like any project, the production of the ebook came with challenges and rewards.

 Trina Chiasson
 Trina Chiasson

"The project was a whole lot of work," Chiasson says. "It was difficult to get skill sets for different components. We had a lot of writers and people with technical backgrounds who could edit. We didn't have as many people who could help with things like design or code."

With a team that can whip up delicious pie charts using plain data, the ebook came together, and feedback from contributors and readers was positive.

"There is a lot of energy around the globe from contributors, potential contributors and readers," Chiasson says.

The site welcomes comments and invites people who are interested in contributing to get in touch.

Contributors have discussed translating the ebook and adding chapters.

The ebook will be translated into French and Spanish, Chiasson says. A German translation is likely, and a Mandarin version is possible, she adds.

Upcoming chapters will focus on graph types and advanced color perception theory. To find out when those chapters will be added, you can follow @DataDesignBook.

In the meantime, the ebook may whet your appetite for a pie chart.

Last Updated: August 28, 2014
First Published: August 27, 2014