7 tips for better data-driven stories

Ask ‘So what?’ Illustrate trends with customers or employees. Find mini-stories in annual reports. Numbers-heavy stories needn’t be a snooze.

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Yet we lowly English majors, along with people trained in journalism and communication, do have one advantage over the number-crunchers: We know how to tell stories.

The question is how to use data in a meaningful way that advances your narrative.

“If you don’t know why you’re sharing a piece of data or what it means in the larger scheme of the argument you are trying to make, it’s not very useful,” says Amy Loomis, co-founder and former program director of IBM Think Academy.

Here are some tips for building better number-heavy stories:

1. Ask ‘So what?’ when creating stories, videos or infographics.

Another way to put it, Loomis says, is to ask, “Why would someone want to know this? How does it help them make a decision or think about the opportunity or challenge at hand?”

If you can’t answer that, your data probably aren’t very useful.

To address the “so what?” issue in preparing infographics, Bob Zeni of Bob Zeni & Associates and Ragan Consulting Group says you must answer four questions:

For a general audience, stick with short, informal text. You should use bright primary colors and simple, direct visuals.

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