Why Data Visualization?
By converting your raw research data into tables, pie charts, bar charts, histograms, etc., you are making your data more accessible and easier to understand for humans, especially if you have collected a large amount of data. It helps get that “main point” out much more concisely! By being able to understand what your data is saying, you may notice a trend you may not have noticed otherwise, giving you greater insight into your research.
The following list of tools for data visualization is available to Boston University students and instructors at no cost (either through an institutional subscription, or availability as open source or free software).
Free courses through Edx: Data Visualization for All
- Tableau is free, but powerful, tool to use for data visualization. It is more user-friendly than other products like R.
- As an example, the School of Theology Library uses Tableau for data visualization projects.
- As the free version is cloud-based, it is important that raw data is scrubbed of potentially-sensitive information before it is published online (even if the data is hidden from public consumption).
- Tableau offers one-year licenses to students at accredited academic institutions for Tableau Desktop. Workbooks can be saved locally to your own computer.
- Ability to create dashboards for multiple visualizations next to each other, or stories to engage in digital storytelling.
- Tableau Desktop is also free for educators and instructors, too!
- Need guidance to get started? The School of Theology Library has a workshop based on Data Visualization Using Tableau.
- Do you need further information to get started? The Tableau support page includes resources on getting started, depending on the environment you chose.
- R is a powerful, completely free language and environment for statistical computing and graphics, and allows for publishable quality graphs and plotting.
- However, a major downside to R is the steep learning curve. Tutorials for getting started can be found on the R project site.
- Need help getting started? Boston University IS&T offers instruction sessions for R several times a year. The slides are always available!
- Simple as copying raw data from Excel and pasting within this web-based, free-to-use online tool. Pick which visualization interests you, and export to share on your project site, or within your article or assignment.
- Quick reference guides provided by the RAWGraphs website.
- Available at Boston University via Google Apps. Create online flowcharts, diagrams, UML sketches, and ER models.
- A free, open-source tool, but requires inputting data within a script. Chart.js allows creators to build several types of dynamic charts and graphs. This tool is not recommended for larger scale data visualization needs (like simply inputting raw data).
TimelineJS (and other Knight Lab storytelling tools)
- Storytelling tools from Knight Lab are free and open-source. TimelineJS, for example, helps creators build dynamic timelines that can be inserted inside websites. See, for example, the timeline of library exhibitions here.
- Data is inputted into a template in Google Docs provided by Knight Lab. Copy the URL into the Knight Lab website, and HTML script will be provided to insert into your website.
- Other tools include JuxtaposeJS (comparing two images of the same size), StorylineJS (building an annotated line chart), and StorymapJS (which used real-world maps to tell stories).
Canva Graph Maker
- You may be familiar with Canva to make stunning flyers for events, website banners and infographics, and more. But, did you know that Canva has a graph making tool to create some stunning (but simple) visualizations, that can then be embedded into your website?
- Unfortunately, it is not as simple as putting in raw data (e.g. as collected in an Excel spreadsheet). Creators will need information like overall percentages. See, for example, here. This is for simple visualizations with percentages you've already calculated; however, the easy to create graphics can assist in your digital storytelling.
- Potential use: including in assignment, paper, or article an informative infographic. Visualizations for prompts like percentage of respondents belonging to a particular denomination can be inserted into the work for maximum impact.