AEA365 | A Tip-a-Day by and for Evaluators



Steve Fleming on Using Data Visualization to Communicate with Stakeholders

My name is Steve Fleming, and I am a Senior Systems Analyst for the National Center for Educational Achievement (NCEA) in Austin, TX. NCEA is a department of ACT, Inc., a not-for-profit organization committed to helping people achieve education and workplace success. NCEA builds the capacity of educators and leaders to create educational systems of excellence for all students. We accomplish this by providing research-based solutions and expertise in higher performing schools, school improvement, and best practice research that lead to increased levels of college and career readiness.

NCEA is constantly evaluating how well its data visualizations communicate with educators. We have found books and articles by Stephen Few to be very helpful in this regard. Mr. Few adheres to Edward Tufte’s maxim, “Above all else, highlight the data” in a straightforward exposition of best practices for all types of standard data visualizations.

Rad Resource: Stephen Few’s book, Show me the Numbers, provides an excellent introduction to improving your visual communication skill. A collection of his articles is also available for free at the Perceptual Edge Library.

Hot Tip: Stephen Few provides data visualization recommendations based on how our brains actually work. Did you know…?

  1. The properties of position and color are processed by the visual system first. Emphasizing one of these attributes is often the best way to guide the reader to focus on the most important information. When used inappropriately, these can actually inhibit communication.
  2. Our short term memory can only handle a limited amount of information at a time. For this reason, trying to code more than a few categorical distinctions on a graph is problematic because the reader will forget what each, for example, color stands for.
  3. Our minds fill in gaps in lines and figures. For this reason, it is unnecessary to draw a box around an entire graph. A single vertical and horizontal axis will do fine and reduce chart clutter.

Rad Resource: Do you need to create a data visualization quickly? Juice Analytics Chart Chooser allows you to filter by your charting need to select the data visualization that is right for you. Do you see something you like? Click on the chart, and you have the option to download a template in Excel or Power Point.

This contribution is from the aea365 Tip-a-Day Alerts, by and for evaluators, from the American Evaluation Association. Please consider contributing – send a note of interest to

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