Either you decide to stay in the shallow end of the pool, or you go out into the ocean.

-Christopher Reeve

In an ongoing quest to improve my data visualization skills, I recently ventured out from the security of the shallow end and took a stab at the next level of sophistication with some basic charts. In Part I of this series I describe the process I used to create my first back-to-back bar chart. Once again, I learned most of the skills I applied for these from Stephanie Evergreen and Ann K Emery, both wonderful dataviz artists and great teachers. 

Here is my first stab at small multiples. I evaluated a summer Leadership Academy for school leaders where participants were asked to name their top “take aways” from the Academy.

small multiples

In this way, the reader can see not only the top 9 topics cited, but can also determine what appeared to have more of an impact on participants who work at different levels. It’s clear that topics A and H are important to the secondary folks, while elementary folks seemed more interested in topics C, B, G and H. There were many fewer K-12 people at the Academy, but for that group, Topics A and C appear to stand out. Knowing this can help inform those who need to plan future academies and other professional learning opportunities.

Here is how to do this:

  1. Create a simple bar graph for one dataset (Topic A).
  2. Make these basic changes:
    • DELETE gridlines, x-axis and its tick marks, chart border. (NOTE: I could have deleted the x-axis line as well, but I left it in this chart for the purpose of visually “anchoring” each small bar chart)
    • ADD data labels.
    • FORMAT fonts (larger, bold).
    • ADJUST colors (I used colors associated with the organization).
  3. When you have everything looking the way you want it to on the first graph, create the remaining graphs by copying the first and editing the data.
    • Click “select data” and edit to get the correct data on the chart.
  4. ALIGN all the small charts.
    1. DELETE the y-axis on all but the leftmost charts. (Again, this could also be deleted, but I liked the way it “anchors” the the group of charts.)
  5. INSERT text boxes to identify the topics (this eliminates the need for the legend). (I created one – Topic A, then copied, pasted, and aligned it, and then replaced the text for the other topics).
  6. INSERT text boxes at the bottom for the shared x-axis (the categories secondary, elementary, and K-12 need only appear at the bottom of each column of small graphs).
  7. ADD a title and subtitle.

For more on small multiples and different ways of creating them, see Stephanie’s post and Ann K Emery’s blogs on small multiples.

Let’s be honest. This graph took some time and some fiddling to get it right. But, the investment will most certainly pay off in the future. Each time I clicked, I learned something new, and my next chart will be even better in less time! Onward!