Laura Blasi on Sparklines

My name is Laura Blasi.  I work in the field of assessment and institutional research, evaluate grants in the field of education, and teach research methods to graduate students.  In all cases I am trying to communicate in ways that are engaging but are still have meaning (to them and for me.)  I write a lot of reports, and I always want to convey my findings graphically, and I try to find a way to integrate the images into my writing.  My resource is using Sparklines to help convey visual data.

Rad Resource:  Edward Tufte in his book Beautiful Evidence defined sparklines as “intense, simple, wordlike graphics” – so when you see a graph illustrating the rise and fall of the dollar over several years and that graph is embedded in a paragraph only as high as the letters in this sentence.

For example:

Using sparklines I can show a trend and you do not have to break from reading to find a separate chart or graph somewhere else on the page.  About sparklines and more examples from outside of evaluation here: http://bit.ly/TufteSparklines

I wanted to share this here and would love to see other examples actually made in evaluation reports in our field – maybe knowing the importance and/or the impact would be great, too.  Has anyone done this for a funder or agency?

This contribution is from the aea365 Daily Tips blog, by and for evaluations, from the American Evaluation Association. Please consider contributing – send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org.

10 thoughts on “Laura Blasi on Sparklines”

  1. Fantastic analysis – With reference to which , if someone is wanting to merge PDF files , We came upon presentation here http://goo.gl/feCxsY

  2. Heve you seen this yet from the New York Times?

    Mapping America: Every City, Every Block
    Browse local data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, based on samples from 2005 to 2009.

    By MATTHEW BLOCH, SHAN CARTER and ALAN McLEAN
    http://projects.nytimes.com/census/2010/explorer

    You may want to look up where you grew up
    and see how much it has changed or stayed the same…

    Recently Steve Fleming posted recommendations for books regarding data visualization (11/30/10) on this blog and through his posting I found some other great resources.

    I posted the video below in response and wanted to share it here. I will keep looking to share and watching the postings to learn….

    Other resource
    TED video: David McCandless:
    The beauty of data visualization
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLqjQ55tz-U

  3. Susan and Gareth,

    Thank you for getting me up-to-speed, I had no idea there were so many possibilities in terms of software and I will check them out — I found another cool example — http://infosthetics.com/archives/subway_sparklines.jpg which shows subway ridership in NYC since 1905. This was posted on Infosthetics and drawn from this site: http://transit.frumin.net/trx/Main_Page Now I’ll stop surfing and move toward the software sites… Cheers, Laura

  4. Tom, great example. Two questions:

    1. Did Bona Vista Microcharts work well and easily?

    2. Is there any chance that you have a link to a report with these embedded so that we could see them in this context in situ?

    Appreciate the contribution!

  5. I bit the bullet and paid ~$200 for BonaVista Microcharts. I like having the ability to present histograms with all of my survey items on evaluation reports. Without sparklines of some sort, the histograms take up waaay too much space. This also allows me to report simple bar charts for continuous data points and set a performance hash mark on the bar chart. It’s nice to be able to present an entire column of these so my users can quickly see what’s going on. In some ways, this has made my reporting less of a once-in-a-blue-moon activity and more like a dashboard.

  6. I wanted to update everyone. Gareth, the jquery sparklines developer, was kind enough to troubleshoot with me. He added a bit more info on how to properly use units of measure in the demo forms (right on the form itself) and things got much better. What great customer service! (And, I’m not even a customer, the jquery plugin and demo are free.)

    I wanted to say a bit more about this one, now that it is working better for me (I should note that it wasn’t the underlying functionality that didn’t work before, just the formatting needed for the data entered).

    The jquery site’s demo allows you to make multiple types of in-line data graphics – including traditional sparklines, but also mini bar charts, pie charts, box plots, etc. You can use the graphics that the demo creates just by right clicking on them and copying or saving them, then integrating them into your document, presentation, website, etc.

    You can also install the plugin directly on your website for those with a bit more programming capacity and a need for expanded use.

    Thanks to Gareth for his responsiveness! – here is the direct link again:
    http://omnipotent.net/jquery.sparkline/

  7. Susan: Sorry to hear you had issues with the jquery sparkline site – Should be quirk free! Drop me an email (address is on the sparkline site) if you’d like to help figure out what’s up.

    Thanks

  8. Laura, thanks for the attention to sparklines! What synchronous timing. I have been working with them over the past few weeks and just added one to the AEA membership page (see http://eval.org/membership.asp).

    I made that one using google’s free sparkline generator at http://www.style.org/chartapi/sparklines/ and just cut and pasted the final picture into the website. It isn’t the most elegant – I am working on how to incorporate them more readily and usefully.

    My trial data set was 3055,3579,3700,4200,4541,5225,5603,5603,5785

    There are lots of other sparkline generators out there including:
    In Jquery http://omnipotent.net/jquery.sparkline/ (this one’s demo seems to be quirky, working sometimes, not others – but it also goes well beyond traditional sparklines into multiple other types of inline data graphics).

    Sparkline capabilities have also been incorporated into excel 2010, but not without controversy – Tufte has raised concern because of Microsoft’s patent filing (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sparkline).

    Finally, in this short YouTube Video Edward Tufte critiqued the iphone interface from 2008 as example of thoughtful data visualization and noted in particular the sparklines used for the reporting of stock data http://ow.ly/SSRz

    OK, potentially more than anyone wants, but wanted to share what I had information about. Anyone else out there working with sparklines?

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