Foreign languageIf you want to improve your data visualization skills you should think of it as a foreign language, where you use data points instead of words, charts instead of sentences, dashboards instead of paragraphs, axis and labels instead of punctuation marks.

It has its own grammar, created by Bertin and improved by Tufte, Few, Cleveland and others, and a pseudo-grammar, defined by Microsoft, SAP…

When using this language, we often focus too much on the writing tool (excelcharts.com anyone?). That’s bad for a lot of reasons. Fighting that built-in pseudo-grammar is one of them. Fortunately, we are starting to have some tools well-aligned with the real grammar (Tableau).

You can learn all about the lexicon and the grammar and the tools at a data visualization language school. But do you like a sentence because it is grammatically correct? Of course not. You like a sentence because of its ideas, facts, emotions.

So, forget the tools, forget the rules. Just say what you have to say and let them help you silently. That’s where fluency comes from.

If you can argue using your mother language then you can argue using data visualization. If you can’t, data visualization will not help you. Returning to the language school to learn even more grammar will not help you. The answer is not there.

Learn how to communicate better. Buy a few good books on copywriting, rhetoric, presentations. Play with logical arguments: how would a syllogism look like in data visualization? Learn how to recognize lies and half trues in charts.

And, if you don’t know what you are talking about, it doesn’t matter if you are using English or Chart-ish. You must know more about the data (and the reality behind it) and how to use it.

If you want to communicate better with charts make sure you know how to communicate effectively without them.

Photo credits: tochis