Monday, February 26, 2018

Not the best way to annotate a graph

On the Speaking Pro Central website I saw an article by Rosie Hoyland at Presentation Guru on February 22, 2018 titled The Best Way to Annotate a Graph. She began by saying:

“A good graph will make its story quickly and clearly and how you annotate it will be a major part of telling that story. Clutter confuses and makes it difficult to see the wood from the trees, whereas simplicity enables clear and direct attention.”

She linked to a graph makeover article by Bruce Gabrielle at Speaking PowerPoint on January 24, 2018 titled 10 Rules for Graph Annotations. Bruce had started from a modification of an article by Matt Chambers at Sir Viz-a-Lot on November 28, 2016 titled Makeover Monday: The Wealth Gap. A graph of the data Matt began with is shown above. (I have borrowed the version of that graph shown at Business Insider in a November 23, 2016 article by Elena Holodny titled The top 0.1% of American households hold the same amount of wealth as the bottom 90%). Bruce actually had prettied it up by labeling the horizontal time axis at five-year intervals.    

Bruce’s starting point had referenced six points on that graph via text boxes with a total of over 130 words. My parody of it is shown above. Then he showed how to twiddle the layout to try and improve things. It’s far from best though. The basic problem still is that there are way too many words for a presentation slide. It’s a slideument or slidedoc – something that belongs in a handout for afterwords, or an infographic rather than a slide for during a presentation. Rosie should have referred to a guest article at Presentation Guru by Oliver Hauss on September 12, 2017 titled Can a slidedoc ever be a presentation?

What Bruce could have done was to unpack that slide into a set of six slides, each with a caption referencing a single point. That would have been seeing the forest for the trees. An example is shown above. Instead Bruce talked about Signposts, Text, and Placement and fiddled around. His advice makes sense in general though. He began with:

“Text is great. But too much text can feel overwhelming and unwelcome to read. People need to be able to skim your graph and get the message quickly. Long text annotations slow them down, so you need short text phrases (‘Signposts’) so the reader can skim.”

But isn’t signpost just another word for a headline? Why do we need another term to describe what we’ve already seen in newspapers?

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