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Clean up your charts in five easy steps

By Samantha Grant

Evaluators spend a lot of time creating reports and presentations to share data with stakeholders. In the last decade, we've become much more aware of the way in which we package our data to get audiences to pay attention. We know that dense reports with no charts or pictures get filed in the "will read someday" pile, so evaluators focus on making reports that people will actually read.

One way to do that is to add charts for variety, color and emphasis. You've probably created a report or presentation with a chart. Chances are that when you did, you inserted the default Excel chart. But the Excel default doesn't make well designed charts. I have created the following video with five easy steps to help you to clean up your charts and to make your reports and presentations more readable.

In the video, I shared the following tips:
  • Create a better title- A vague title is a big no-no.  Don’t leave interpretation up to your audience. Your title should tell your reader what they should get out of the chart – your key finding. 
  • Use color to highlight- Our eyes are drawn to color. Used strategically, color can help you illustrate your point and help your audience make sense of the data.  
  • Remove unnecessary clutter- you should be noticing a trend by now -- a major concept of good design is that less is more. Grid lines and axis labels add clutter. It’s better to focus on having clear data labels and use of color.
  • Format data labels- Data labels reduce interpretation time by clearly identifying numbers. In a bar chart, put the labels right on the bars. For a line chart, add data labels above key points. 
  • Increase text size- If your audience has to squint to read it, it’s way too small. For presentation slides, use at least a 20-point font. For print, nothing less than 9. 

As you learn more about visualizing data through charts, you may feel overwhelmed. Starting small will help – and can lead to the biggest changes. If you feel motivated after making these tweaks, check out this Data Visualization Checklist from Ann Emery and Stephanie Evergreen to improve your charts even more.

What tips do you have to improve your reports or presentations?

-- Samantha Grant, evaluation director

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  1. Thank you Sam for this helpful tips list and tutorial. I was recently trying to recall some of the tips you had shared previously, and this sums them all up! I frequently work with stakeholders and I know these charting tips will be used the next time I showcase our data with them. Thank you again!

    Maybe you will do another blog posting with your slideshow tips you shared with the first YDL Cohort? I know I found that insightful, and I bet others will too.

  2. Thanks Courtney! I love sharing resources for presentations. I'll consider that for a future blog post. Thanks for the idea! Good luck with your chart making.


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