RESEARCH & RESOURCES

TDWI Checklist Report | Telling a Story with Data

November 7, 2014

Storytelling is every business person’s job. We all routinely present data analysis, and each of us imagines the ultimate success: the audience pays full attention and absorbs our full message. Even better, people tell others about it, and each person heeds the call to action.

All too often, however, we’re disappointed. Those in the audience who should grasp the meaning in the numbers fail to do so. Important messages are partially understood, misunderstood, or ignored altogether.

A story—a narrative describing the pursuit of a goal that ends in success or failure—captures our imagination. It can teach or inspire us. It starts with a hook that grabs our attention, has a plot that holds our interest, and ends with a resolution. A data story—a narrative that includes analysis—can move beyond a simple recounting of facts to weave together pieces of analysis that make an impact. These stories can be written by individuals or groups to illustrate a variety of business goals.

Understanding the potential for better results explains why data storytelling is increasingly popular among business people. Traditional storytelling in different media offers a rich tradition to learn from. This checklist provides practical guidelines to nascent data storytellers. It describes some important principles of data and analysis—the supporting characters in a story—as well as some tips for making a story engaging.

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