Creating visualisations used to be a niche activity, but has gained importance as a tool to increase dissemination and impact. In simple terms, a visualisation is a chart or figure that represents information graphically. Visualisations are a researcher’s best friend, as they help communicate data succinctly and convey ideas more effectively.
When using visualisation to communicate research, your goal is to strengthen and simplify the main message of your research for your audience. You can pilot your ideas with colleagues, as they will spot issues and you will be able to address them. Thinking about colours, formatting, and presentation is essential, and design professionals can help.
Visualisations as an investigation tool
Visualisations are also helpful to understand data, as they allow you to discover patterns that aren’t immediately evident. In this case, you would be the audience for the visualisation, so no design considerations are needed. You can go into as much detail as required, and plot the most obscure relationships you might think of.
The main challenge is when you wish to both understand data and to communicate it. Think, for example, of a team meeting where you need to show data to receive feedback or guidance. You will have to consider how to represent enough detail to allow people to comment on your work but also little enough to make your point clearly.
Approaches to creating visualisations
Creating powerful visualisations can be difficult. In a simple scenario, you might create a static visualisation for, e.g. a slideshow or a poster. You can also use interactive visualisations, where users can play with the data, especially as a digital resource embedded in a webpage. Interactive visualisations are more complex but tools such as tableau public and Google Charts can be helpful. Remember to ensure that data is not stored in unsafe locations and that sensitive information is not exposed when using online tools.
In conclusion, you should keep in mind that data visualisation is an art and a science at the same time. While creativity is important, clarity is, too. If you are missing either the technical or graphical skills required, get in touch with support staff in your organisation.