The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

Harness the Power of Data Storytelling With These 7 Tips

We recently shared a blog post highlighting three different ways to visualize data from CUPA-HR’s Data Visualization Challenge. Data visualizations can be used to inform and persuade when tough decisions must be made — something every institution is facing during the COVID-19 crisis. Transforming raw data into eye-catching visualizations can help campus leaders identify trends so they can begin working toward solutions.

Anthony Schmidt, data visualization researcher at CUPA-HR, shares his tips to create well-designed and easy-to-understand visualizations.

  • Before you start designing your visualization, take some time to understand the data in its raw form and identify trends. Determine which data points most clearly illustrate the information you want to convey.
  • Use color strategically. For example, you can use colors to highlight important information while using greys to deemphasize information. Also consider your institution’s graphic standards and how you can incorporate that into your visualization.
  • Use easy-to-read fonts. Sans serif fonts are best read on screens, and serif fonts are better for printed material. Again, check your institution’s graphics standards for proper fonts.
  • Choose a bar chart format when sharing data that include more than two or three categories of information. Pie charts, donut charts and other chart types that require the user to judge area (rather than length or height) can be difficult to interpret and compare when they are sliced into several categories.
  • Flip bar charts so that the categories appear on the left vertically and the bars run from left to right. This allows more room for category names and will help you avoid truncated or slanted labels.
  • Learn advanced features of Excel. Anthony highly recommends tutorials from Evergreen Data.
  • Try out interactive visualizations in PowerBI or Tableau. Many institutions have subscriptions to these services. These types of visualizations can enhance your data storytelling powers.

To view other visualization examples submitted by your peers, and for other great resources, check out the Data Visualization Challenge thread in CUPA-HR Connect.

Related Resources:

CUPA-HR Research

Data Talks: Using HR Metrics and Visualizations to Persuade and Inform

Harnessing the Power of Big Data for Sound HR Decision-Making (Higher Ed HR Magazine)

Metrics Toolkit (CUPA-HR members-only resource)


The CUPA-HR national office will be closed November 26-27 in observance of the Thanksgiving holiday.