Four steps of data storytelling

The world is made up of more pieces of data than can be understood by any person or computer, but we will still try with data storytelling. A remarkable story is the best way to understand data. Doing this turns data into insights and humanises abstract numbers. There are four simple steps to achieve a statistical fairy-tale.  

1. Set the scene

All the best stories start with fantastic settings and characters. You can do this to your data by explaining the purpose of the data analysis- what information is already known, where are the problems in current knowledge, and what opportunities can be achieved in the gaps? What are your characters call to adventure? This background gives the research a hook- it will give meaning to the analysis and give the audience a reason to keep reading. Additionally, it is critical to have riveting characters! To do this, humanise the data pool: explain the sampling location, method and key factors that went into making those decisions in a way that makes the numbers seem like they are more than just numbers. Afterall, they are the main characters of the analysis!  

2. Uncover the facts  

This is where you reveal the details of the story. Use this time to explain trends in data. Where are there connects? Where are there not? Outline what you expect to happen and what would be unexpected. Basically, this sets up a background for when the insights, that way the reader can understand where they are coming from. Think of it as taking your main character through their travels as the meet new people and learn new things, all on their way to reach their destination.  

3. Discover the purpose of data storytelling

In the hero’s journey calls this stage the apotheosis. As a matter of fact, the stages of the hero’s journey were first identified by Joseph Campbell in 1949 and it has been valuable ever since. Basically, apotheosis is when the main character discovers their purpose which arms them for their final battle. Data can do the same. Your reader needs to have that ‘aha’ moment! Draw connections between data points and explain what that means for the research. This will prepare them for heading into the final stage of creating a solution.  

4. Deliver solution 

Now, using the insights gathered, it is time to tackle the problems outlined when the scene was set. Identify which insights are actionable and which ones will be most successful. This is also the time to look forward to the next steps- will there be a sequel? What could be done differently next time to gain more precise insights? Are there new opportunities that were revealed? Chances are there were, so what can be planned for next? This way, your data storytelling never has to end.  

Written by Arden Lunay
Arden has a passion for combining creative communication skills with social justice knowledge to create change. She is bringing a fresh outlook to the industry and excited to share her ideas.