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Content 101: How to Tell Better Stories with Data

Content 101: How to Tell Better Stories with Data

When you think about it, every good story includes visualization. Adding small details to the story helps others to see the big picture for themselves, which is why telling stories with the right information makes the picture come to life so much better. But how does data visualization work, and why is it important?

Data visualization shows your audience that you’ve done your homework and that you know what you are talking about. Furthermore, it creates a credible and interesting picture that’s organized and easy to understand. When people see what you are saying (as opposed to just hearing it), they get excited and engage with your story. On top of that, when you create a credible story and have the data to back it up, you’re able to drive your main talking points home. You become a trustworthy source of information; which, from a business perspective, is in your best interest every time.

So, how do you tell a story with data visualization? Let’s dig deeper.

How to Tell Your Story with Data

We’ve put together a step-by-step guide that will help you get your point across using data. Even if you’ve never done this before, you will find that data mapping is quite simple.

1. Collect Your Data

The first thing you must do is find an appropriate source for your data. First-party data is usually the best option. This data is defined as information that your company collected firsthand. It could be from your social media followers, site visitors, or existing customers. Either way, for data to be first-party data, your company is the one that obtained the information and then shared it to tell your story.

If you can’t gather the information yourself, the next step is to look at public databases. You might consider checking these sites out:

If you have to choose an outside source, make sure it is trustworthy. You aren’t looking for someone’s opinion, or qualitative data⁠—you’d rather have factual information that makes a point and provides accurate information.

2. Find Your Story: A Three-Step Process

This part is simple. Simply follow this three-step process.

  1. Ask a question.
  2. Check the data for an answer.
  3. Is the answer newsworthy? If you think it is, move on to the next step. If you don’t think it is, go back to the first step.

3. Write Your Story

If you have writing experience, you know that a good story writes itself. You won’t have to put forth too much effort to get your point across. As you write, consider these tips:

Always Think about Your Audience

Keeping your target audience in mind is the best way to ensure that the information in your story is appealing. If you are communicating a story to moms, you want to take a parenting angle. This same angle might not work as well with professional lawyers. You have to take the appropriate tone and tell the story that resonates with your audience.

In addition, you want to consider the level of sophistication your topic should take. Here are a few pointers.

  • Rookie: This audience hasn’t been exposed to the subject before, but they don’t want you to oversimplify the information.
  • Generalist: This audience is aware of the topic at hand but wants to understand it further.
  • Professional: While this group has an in-depth understanding of your subject, they desire to go deeper and receive more detail.
  • Expert: This group is ready for you to get deep with your storytelling.
  • Executive: When dealing with this audience, you want to get right to the point and outline all of the probabilities without a lot of run-around.

Think about how you are going to communicate the topic in a way that keeps your audience engaged.

Visualize the Data

Drive your story home. You can’t simply share the information⁠—you need to add data visualization. To provide helpful location data, mapping software such as Maptive can provide your audience with a great tool to visualize your story.

As you prepare your information, look at other pieces of high-quality content that successfully display the presenter’s purpose. For example, you can look at these climate opinion maps and other visualizations that show the value of maps. What you notice is that each visual makes a specific statement. There’s no question about what the author is attempting to share.

That’s exactly what you want people to say about your story.

Craft a Narrative

Your information must be objective and factual. You don’t want to twist any of the information to make a point. With that said, you don’t need to suppress all of your creativity in the process of analyzing data. You can be yourself and share your analysis in a way that stays on topic, but make sure that your analysis does not take your audience’s ability to make their own assumptions.

Most importantly, make sure you don’t censor the information to steer your opinions. You want to be trustworthy and dependable: show your audience the whole picture.

Get Feedback

Before you share your project with your target audience, it helps to have a colleague or friend look at it. Fresh eyes can see what you missed and look at it from an objective point of view. When you get the thumbs up, it’s time to publish your article.

Data Storytelling Changes Everything

While creating a story with data takes a little more effort, it is well worth it. After utilizing data mapping, you will be able to give the facts concisely and with excitement. Using mapping software makes the entire process easier—your work will look so professional, your audience will beg for more.


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by Rebecca Jones // Contributor to Businessing Magazine.

Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.