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How to create graphs and charts that pop

Journalists are not statisticians, yet we love to include lots of numbers, data, and percentages in our stories to make them stronger. All those facts can be lost on most readers, whereas presenting the information visually makes a more compelling argument.

There a number of online tools for creating charts and to put them to the test, I created a pie chart using data that has become an integral part of my life — the top ten posts at 10,000 Words for the month — and graded each site on how long it took to create each chart (with the text pre-prepared) and embed it in this post. Here are the results:

Chart Chooser by Juice Analytics

Time to create: About 6 minutes
Ease of Use:     
The results: I was initially impressed by the 17 different charts to choose from. I was not, however, impressed by the Excel spreadsheet I was given to download (users can also select a PowerPoint). I got bogged down trying to create six pie slices instead of the default five and I could have just as easily created a pie chart from the templates available in Excel. The image below is a screenshot of the final chart.

Widgenie

Time spent: About 8 minutes before giving up
Ease of Use:     
The results: After completing Widgenie’s registration process (which asked way more questions than it should), I created an Excel file, which I couldn’t upload because the server stopped responding. Once the file was uploaded, it took a minute to figure out the user-unfriendly creation process. In the end I got nothing but error messages and nothing to show for it. A look at some of the other Widgenie-created charts elsewhere on the net revealed embedding and coding problems.

Google Spreadsheet

Time to create: About 4 minutes
Ease of Use:     
The results: Most of the time was spent inputting the data into the Google Spreadsheet. After that, it was just a matter of selecting the relevant cells and pushing a few buttons and presto! Use of Google Spreadsheets requires registration.

Initially, Track-n-Graph was to be included as a part of this test, but because it only offers graphs that track activity (as the name suggests), and as such it didn’t fit into the criteria. Still, the site, which requires registration, is worth checking out. AmCharts is another graph creation service that offers great versatility, but requires download and the free version puts a small link to the site in the corner of the graph.

The pie chart isn’t the only option for data visualization. There are at least three other alternatives to the pie chart, including the bar chart, the stacked bar chart and a personal favorite: the bubble chart, which can be seen in action in the Fleshmap covered here. TravelMapGenerator is also useful for creating a world map that the user can color code just by checking a few boxes (should come in handy when illustrating the difference between Georgia, the state and Georgia, the country).

Charts don’t have to be static either. The following video is a clip from the movie I.O.U.S.A. that uses an animated graph to illustrate rising deficits and decreased social security in the US.

The personal visualization project from FlowingData is the ultimate example of how even the most mundane data can be turned into compelling projects. Users submitted charts and graphs on daily activities like their favorite music, the spam in their inbox and, as illustrated below, the pain in their body.

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