This semester, I had the pleasure of taking a class at Holy Cross titled “Writing about Data & Policy,” taught by Professor Gabe Morrison. In this class, we discussed strategies, concepts, and methods to help us better understand how to write and discuss data, numbers, and tables in different settings.
One thing I loved about this course was its true commitment to the liberal arts nature of the college, because not everyone in my class has a STEM background. This course implements realistic strategies that all students, regardless of their career aspirations, can take with them in order to improve their writing and presentation skills.
Also, if you’re interested, we watched this fabulous TedTalk about how to avoid making terrible PowerPoint presentations. Here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iwpi1Lm6dFo
So, anyways. Here are some of the biggest things that I am taking away from the course:
Data visualizations must tell a story
How many times have you looked at a graph or table and wondered, “what the HECK am I looking at?!”
Let me tell you. That isn’t good. When you’re creating any visualization, graph, etc. you want to make it with the goal of telling a compelling story. This can be done with the help of a straight-up, descriptive title, but you need more. Your visualization should be shedding light on a problem, relationship, or idea. Part of this is also knowing what KIND of visualization is good for the variables you’re looking at, but that’s another process. Simply put, you should be able to look at your visualization and immediately be able to say what the main finding is.
Contrast, constrast, constrast
When you’re making a presentation, contrast is SO important. It is essential that your background contrasts with your text, so that the text and information is highlighted. Your audience’s attention span is minimal, so making sure to emphasize the important parts through visual contrast will help you immensely.
DO NOT OVERCROWD
According to my professor and the TedTalk, having more slides with less information is WAY better than having less slides crammed with data. Going back to my last point, the average person has a terrible attention span. So, make sure you only include a maximum of 5-6 main points on one slide, and they should NEVER be full sentences. No presenter wants their audience to be reading the entire slide before they even get a chance to say it themselves!
Make Titles Meaningful
As I said during my visualization bullet, all titles should be more than just one or two word statements. If you have the flexibility, it is crucial that you use your titles to give the “big picture,” but in a meaningful way. If you’re trying to explain the requirements for a job position to a group of candidates, instead of saying “requirements” alone, you could make it more specific. Bring in the job position, mention prior qualifications, or some other important details.
While the course taught me significantly more than what I wrote in these few bullets, these are some of the most transferrable skills that can be used in any discipline. If you get the chance, I highly recommend taking this course with Professor Gabe Morrison before you graduate!