11 March 2015

I used to circulate a checklist at the start of the semester, to drive home my definition of a “complete” data viz project.

We’re here to make something your readers don’t understand into something they do understand as efficiently as possible. To that end, you have some guiding principles:

  • Don’t make your readers work. If readers have to flip between tabs to make comparisons, or cross reference multiple legends, they’re working too hard. The goal of a visualization, at least in the newsroom, should be to make the data easier to understand. Don’t make it harder.
  • Understand visual encoding. Properties like position, length, angle, area, hue, saturation, and brightness convey information by encoding your data, and many of those properties come with cultural expectations. What do these properties represent in your visualization? If you don’t know, you need to.
  • Focus on the data. Chart junk and decoration get in the way of the data. Get the data straight first.
  • Prioritize usability. For some of your audience, locking words inside of images doesn’t just make them work it breaks the story because they’re accessing it via a screen reader. As we all get used to tapping and swiping it is easier to appreciate the problem with device specific commands like “click here.”

There are more good reasons that you should see “click here” as a flag that there’s something terribly wrong:

  • there are almost always better words. You only get so many so don’t waste them.
  • it is bossy and patronizing
  • your links should be integrated into your text – it is better for the flow of the story and better for SEO
  • it is overused
  • “Click here” is an easy fallback, but it usually means that it isn’t obvious what a reader should do next. Look for an opportunity to make links and tabs more intuitive.



Examples of Newsroom Style Guides

CUNY Graduate School of Journalism

© Spring 2015 Amanda Hickman