A Case for Online Data Visualization

This post originally appeared on the Software Carpentry website.

This article originally appeared in The Research Bazaar.

Thorough data analysis is only one part of good research. Equally important is communicating the outcome well and accessibly. And visible research is accessible research.

Our main motivations for publishing our research results are:

  • making them openly accessible to the public,

  • informing fellow researchers about new outcomes that will help them in their research, and

  • strengthening our professional profiles.

In order to achieve all this, the goal is to present research in the most digestible way possible without oversimplifying it. And graphs are an excellent medium for helping us process information. However, publishing figures in a journal comes with caveats. You might need to try make your graphs make sense in black and white or fit within the limited space that you have.

Now imagine the possibility of giving your reader the chance to interact with your data. Let them zoom in, select the data points they want, and look at the dimensions they are interested in. Let them explore your data to truly understand it!

Going even further, custom visualisations which are dynamic and/or interactive can convey complicated ideas much more clearly than static figures are able to. With all this in mind, look at the amazing work that the folks at R2D3 have published. It is a excellent example of a difficult concept explained in simple terms using clever visualisation.

This page is written in D3, a library that allows for incredibly elegant data handling, and a package we have recently started teaching. Our new training module will take you through the basics of web programming, publishing data on your newly created webpage, and then dive deep into data visualisation using D3. By the end of the course, you will be able to create graphs like this one and host it on your own web page, which can even get a DOI to make it citable.

Every research paper can get leveraged using supporting online visualisation. It makes your work discoverable, accessible, and sharable, which can strengthen your profile as a researcher. And as a bonus, people who don't have access to academic journals will still be able to find your work and stay informed.

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