Wednesday, April 5, 2017

A data visualization reading (and watching) list

Century Tower at the University of Florida // by Kate Haskell

Starting this summer, I'm teaching a course in Data Storytelling and Visualization at the University of Florida as part of its new online Master's program in Audience Analytics. After years of teaching data visualization — both at my home university of Kwantlen and through my public Tableau workshops — I'm excited to be branching out into online learning.

In preparing for the course, I asked my Twitter followers for suggestions of what I should add to my reading list.

I received a lot of great suggestions and promised that, once my reading list was complete, I'd share it with others. So here it is!

First, though, a bit of context. My UF course, like my other data visualization training, has a dual focus: Teaching Principles and Teaching Skills.

I like my students to come away with an understanding of data visualization best practices and how to tell effective data stories. But I also want them to have enough software skills to apply those principles to their own work.

For my UF class, the software tool I teach is Tableau. Both because it's the tool I'm most comfortable with and also because I genuinely believe it's the tool with the best combination of flexibility and ease-of use. A point illustrated well by Lisa Charlotte Rost in a chart from one of the readings (emphasis mine):

My course is built around a series of recorded lectures — about an hour's worth each week — in which I teach my students the technical skills of using Tableau while also getting them to think about the fundamentals of data visualization.

Wherever possible, I try to teach them principles at the same time as I'm teaching them practical skills.

To use one example, I teach students the technical steps of how to make a stacked bar chart in Tableau. But then I change the order of the segments to illustrate how stacked bar charts can be hard to read. And then I use Tableau to make a grouped column chart, area chart and line chart out of the same data and then point out the pros and cons of each.

To reflect that dual focus, my UF course has two core textbooks:

Despite disagreeing with her focus on literary storytelling, I really like Cole's book and think it does a great job of providing a lot of clear advice along with solid examples. And Dan Murray's "Tableau Your Data!" provides one of the most comprehensive guides to Tableau that I've come across.

In addition to those two textbooks, my UF course includes select chapters from some of my other favourite books on data visualization:
As you'll see below, I also included several chapters from the ebook Data + Design.

Below are links to the rest of my course readings, as well as videos that I recommend my students watch in addition to my lectures. Just to provide a bit of structure to the list, I've broken it down by topic week. Those topics primarily reflect the content of my recorded lectures, which aren't public, so sometimes the readings will match the topic and sometimes they won't.

Also, full disclosure: I've included a couple of my own pieces in the list below. This is mainly because they covered key topics I wanted to include in the course and having them in the readings saved me from needing to address them in my lectures.

Finally, if you've come across a great reading or video on data visualization or Tableau that's not listed here, please add it to the comments so others can find it. And if you've got a data visualization reading list of your own, please provide the link.

So, without further ado, here's the list:

Week 1: Finding Data



Making data mean more through storytelling” by Ben Wellington [14m]

Andy Cotgreave

Week 2: Basic Data Analysis in Tableau



Week 3: Creating Static Charts in Tableau


Week 4: Finding the Most Important Thing



Week 5: Choosing the Right Chart


Chart Suggestions – A Thought-Starter” by Extreme Presentations

Data Visualization Checklist” by Stephanie Evergreen and Ann Emery

Real Chart Rules to Follow” by Nathan Yau

The self-sufficiency test” by Kaiser Fung


First, load this chart, press play at the bottom left and watch the data change from 1962 to 2015. Then watch this TED Talk by Hans Rosling [20m]:

The Competent Critic” by Alan Smith [21m]

The Power of Drawing in Storytelling” by Catherine Madden [18m]

TED Talks

Week 6: The Power of Annotation

Putting Data Into Context” by Robert Kosara


Embracing Simplicity in Data Visualization” by Chris Love [45m; free login required; NOTE: This link wasn't working as of August 2017]

Week 7: More Chart Types


Visual Analysis Best Practices” (Tableau Whitepaper)

Slopegraphs for comparing gradients: Slopegraph theory and practice” by Edward Tufte (don’t need to read comments)


Week 8: Calculations


Tableau Tip Tuesday: Table Calculations Overview” by Andy Kriebel (blog post and video)

Opening Keynote at OpenVis 2013 by Amanda Cox [43m]

Week 9: Maps


When Maps Shouldn’t Be Maps” by Matthew Ericson

All Those Misleading Election Maps” by Robert Kosara


Mapping Tips from a Cartographer” by Sarah Battersby [53m; free login required / NOTE: This link wasn't working as of August 2017]
Week 10: Interactive Dashboards and Data Stories


Interactive Data Visualization” by Peter Krensky (Tableau Whitepaper)

Data Storytelling” by Robert Kosara (Tableau Whitepaper)


Storytelling and Data: Why? How? When?” by Robert Kosara [31m]

Week 11: Data Visualization Research



Week 12: Next Steps and Tips



50 Tips in 50 Minutes” by Andy Kriebel and Jeff Shaffer [52m]

Rapid Fire Tips & Tricks (and Bad Data Jokes)” by Daniel Hom and Dustin Smith [60m; free login required; NOTE: This link wasn't working as of August 2017]

Some more helpful resources going forward

Tableau bloggers worth following:

Data Visualization bloggers worth following:

Podcasts worth listening to:

A Twitter list of people who provide Tableau and data visualization tips (featuring Ben Jones, Sophie Sparkes and Emily Kund):

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the amazing resource.
    - Dool