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Introduction to Data Visualization   Tags: data, visualization  

This LibGuide collects resources and tutorials related to data visualization. It is a companion to the Introduction to Data Visualization workshop hosted by Data & GIS Services in Perkins Library at Duke University.
Last Updated: Oct 29, 2014 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

About Data Visualization Print Page

Why Visualize?

There have been many attempts to explain why visualization might be a useful practice.  Some of these explanations are anecdotal, but there are increasingly compelling arguments that support visualization as a useful component of data analysis and research in general.

  • Designing Data Visualizations
    An introductory lecture on designing data visualizations from experts Julia Steele and Noah Iliinsky. The lecture covers both what data visualization is helpful with and how to organize and undertake a visualization project.
  • Anscombe's Quartet
    A constructed data set with properties that are hidden by common summary statistics but revealed by simple visualizations.
  • True Stories about the Benefits of Data Visualization
    This blog post by Stephen Few, an expert in the field of data visualization, is an attempt to collect stories and examples showing the utility of data visualization for various projects.


Data visualization can be a complicated set of processes to learn.  A good starting place is to learn a bit of the vocabulary you may see in the various tools and tutorials.

  • Data visualization:

    an umbrella term, usually covering both information and scientific visualization.  This is a general way of talking about anything that converts data sources into a visual representation (like charts, graphs, maps, sometimes even just tables).

    • Scientific visualization:

      generally, the visualization of scientific data that have close ties to real-world objects with spatial properties.  An example might be visualizations of air flow over the wing of an airplane, or 3D volumes generated from MRI scans.  The goal is often to generate an image of something for which we have spatial information and combine that with data that is perhaps less directly accessible, like temperate or pressure data.  The different scientific fields often have very specific conventions for doing their own types of visualizations.

    • Information visualization:

      also a broad term, covering most statistical charts and graphs but also other visual/spatial metaphors that can be used to represent data sets that don't have inherent spatial components.

    • Infographic:

      a specific sort of genre of visualizations.  Infographics have become popular on the web as a way of combining various statistics and visualizations with a narrative and, sometimes, a polemic.

  • Visual analytics:

    the practice of using visualizations to analyze data.  In some research, visualizations can support more formal statistical tests by allowing researchers to interact with the data points directly without aggregating or summarizing them.  Even simple scatter plots, when the variables are chosen carefully, can show outliers, dense regions, bimodalities, etc. In fields where the data themselves are visual (e.g., medical fields), visual analytics may actually be the primary means of analyzing data.  The process of analyzing data through visualization is itself studied by researchers in the visual analytics field.

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