Running out of ideas for your blog? Think about incorporating data in new ways. When leveraged well, data can breathe life and new significance into your posts. This doesn't mean threading spreadsheets directly into your posts. Rather, you should think about how to responsibly frame the data in a way that will advance your narrative. U.S. Statistician and Sculptor Edward Tufte once called this "escaping the flatland."
By putting data into context and using it to strengthen your point, you can give readers a post that will stay with them long after they've left the page. Here are a few narrative techniques to think about when using data in your posts.
1. Demonstrate Change
There is no more powerful narrative technique than using data to demonstrate change over time. In the example below, Latoya Egwuekwe uses data and maps to demonstrate the changing "Geography of a Recession" over time. The darker colors in the geographic representation indicate higher unemployment rates. As you watch the video, you can see the map growing darker over time.
Lesson: Showing a striking trend of change (whether it be deterioration or dramatic improvement) not only brings weight to the discussion, but it can also evoke an emotional response from your blog readers/viewers.
2. Show Discrepancy
Isolated on its own, data can fall flat. But put a set of data into context to highlight discrepancies, and you have a strong narrative. In the example below, The New York Times highlights the discrepancy between the national budget forecasts since 1982, and the reality.
The Washington Post has another great example, placing the number of jobs available next to the number of new hires and highlighting a growing skills gap in America. By showing discrepancies between perception and reality or between two sets of data, you can highlight gaps that lead to clear calls-to-action. Our own Dan Zarrella has adopted this technique in his own research by showing the difference between the perception of when emails should be sent during the week vs. the reality of when effective sends take place.
3. Show Connection or Correlation
In this map, the Community Farm Alliance used data to demonstrate that neighborhoods without easy access to grocery stores in Louisville are also those with higher densities of fast food. The implied connection suggests that these communities have disproportionately limited access to healthy foods.
Note: When showing the correlation between two things, be careful that you don't imply causation. Be clear that you're only showing that two things are connected in some way; not that one is directly leading to the other.
4. Give Scale
Finally, think about using data to demonstrate scale. In this chart, The Economist uses a visual representation of data to demonstrate the scale of each of the top ten employers globally.
Again, scale can help you add context to your posts. What data do you have that can lend itself to this type of visualization? Did you serve more customers last year than the average number of attendees at a Red Sox game? How can you show the scope of your impact?
Hopefully these four techniques help you to think about data in a new way. What ways have you used data to underscore a point in a blog post? Are there any effective examples you can share?
Originally published Sep 26, 2011 3:00:00 PM, updated October 20 2016