Thursday, September 25, 2008

Advice on effectively communicating numbers

In 2004 Professor Stephen Few, who teaches in the MBA program at the University of California, Berkeley wrote a 280 page hardcover book called Show Me the Numbers: Designing Tables and Graphs to Enlighten. Books are wonderful, but reading them takes lots of time.

In 2005 he produced a more manageable 24 page whitepaper on Effectively Communicating Numbers. It discusses how to decide if you should use a table or a graph. Then it discusses choosing and using different types of graphs in considerable detail. The paper concludes with a single page appendix showing the steps involved in designing a graph. (This paper also contains a 10 page appendix by Proclarity Corporation in Boise which illustrates the use of their software. In Spring 2006 Proclarity was purchased by Microsoft and their software became the foundation for PerformancePoint Server.)

You can find most of Professor Few’s other articles in a library on his website. An exception is a recent 80 page presentation on Graph Design for Effective Communication from June 2008.

Both documents do an excellent job of covering the topic of displaying numerical data so that it produces “interocular traumatic impact”, which is his playful academic jargon for “hits you right between the eyes”.

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