The Art of Data Storytelling – An Essential Skill
Isn’t the real purpose of data story telling not just understanding the world but changing it for the better? Can we tell stories with data, words, and images? We absolutely can. As we all know every story has a beginning, middle and an end – even with large and complex data sets.

Data Storytelling – With Case Studies – By Shaku Atre, Copyright Atre Group, Inc. Oct 04, 2016

How can we visualize data? Graphs, charts, and dashboards are some ways of visualizing it. These means may serve a purpose. Sometimes spreadsheets serve a purpose. If you are telling a story by using data to the machines, these means may be understood much better by these machines with software written for it.

But when we want to tell a story to humans using data, should we treat the human beings as if they too are machines? We have been pretty arrogant in the computer industry, because for many decades instead of building user friendly systems have kept on looking for system friendly users. With the advances in technology and with help of artists, whether they are story tellers, poets, painters, or musicians, who try to address the emotions of human beings, the ballgame has changed. Computer technologists can’t be the same genre of the technicians who brought us Control-Alt-Delete keys (Think Again) to be pushed at the same time to shut off the computer.

Data Storytelling

A good story takes us on a journey of ups and downs, grabs our emotions and we get lost in the story because of its emotional intensity.

Try to think of stories you have heard from your grandparents, from your parents, from your teachers, and from your friends. You like to hear those stories again and again, and you don’t get tired of them. You travel to a different world by riding on your emotions. If the storyteller changes the story after having told it multiple times, you can correct the storyteller and emphasize that you want to hear the story that was told umpteen times before.

You can’t stop in the middle of a good story. If you are reading a good story, you can’t put down the book. You are hooked. You don’t forget those stories after a week, after a month, even after a year. Storytelling is an art. And computer people have to learn that art.

Our friend Aristotle told us how a story should be composed: a good story should have a beginning, middle and an end. In Aristotle’s days, stories could be told with plays on a stage. He proposed a three act structure for plays. Today we can describe the three acts of a story that will grab our emotions:

  • A beginning, which is a setup, as the First Act
  • An unsettling event or a conflict creating an imbalance as the Second Act
  • A conflict resolution or creating balance again, if a call for action is implemented consistently, as the Third Act

In our business data stories, we look for a happy ending if the steps prescribed in the conflict resolution are implemented correctly.