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Good Lookin' Data

Barbara Horvath and Visual Rhetoric: Data Visualization Project
May 1, 2017

What does data modeling have to do with storytelling? More than you might think. In partnership with Liberal Arts Technologies and Innovation Services (LATIS), editing instructor Barbara Horvath led her students in Writ 3671: Visual Rhetoric and Document Design on journey through the interactive data modeling software, Tableau.

Students were provided with raw datasets and then had the opportunity to use Tableau to develop engaging displays. While working with their datasets, students analyzed, designed, and interpreted data to show the results using Tableau's story feature. "What we wanted students to do was to ask good questions of the data, answer those questions, and then show it visually," describes Horvath.

Junior technical writing and communication major, Alex Berger, who completed his project on passenger information on the Titanic, enjoyed his experience getting to explore Tableau. "The ability to create data displays so quickly and effectively, often while combining complex sets of data, is an incredibly cool function. Using programs like Excel can often be very tedious and difficult, so working with something like Tableau was great," elaborates Berger.

 

Data display illustrating the class distribution on the Titanic.
Example of student Alex Berger's data displays, illustrating the age distribution of each class on the Titanic.

Often times the job of a technical communicator is to make complex information and ideas accessible to a general audience. If information is not presented in a way that is visually appealing, people are much less likely to engage with it. Berger explains, "As a technical communicator, you have to be able to create compelling visual displays that complement your text or support your argument. If a display is unorganized or unclear, you will lose credibility. The reader should be able to look at a data display and instantly understand its purpose and what information it conveys." 

Berger adds, "The skills gained in this project directly correlate to my work as a technical communicator, emphasizing the innovative, visually appealing, and concise methods needed to reach the modern audience. Technical communicators, no matter the field, will need to work with data in some form or another." In our media saturated world, the need to present information in a clear, concise, and visually appealing manner is more important than ever. By enrolling in this course, students gain skills in the classroom that will prepare them for the workplace.

This story was written by an undergraduate student account executive in CLAgency. Meet the team.

 

Four students having a conversation.

Become a technical writing and communication major.

Are you interested in data visualization? Technical communicators do this and so much more. Technical writing and communication involves communicating complex information to specific audiences with clarity and accuracy. Technical communicators write, organize, edit, and design information for a variety of careers in business, technology, science, health, law, and more. 

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