Definition

data storytelling

This definition is part of our Essential Guide: Guide to telling stories with data: How to share analytics insights

Data storytelling is the process of translating data analyses into layman's terms in order to influence a business decision or action.

With the rise of digital business and data-driven decision making, data storytelling has become a much-talked-about skill often associated with the data science and analytics community. The idea is to connect the dots between sophisticated data analyses and decision makers, who may not have the ability to interpret the data. To date, there is no set of best practices on how to tell compelling data stories, but experts often describe data storytelling in traditional storytelling terms, which include a "hook" or a device to draw the listener or reader in, themes, the use of emotion and a conclusion or a set of conclusions.

Some experts, such as Tom Davenport, analytics thought leader and professor of information technology and management at Babson College, emphasize the importance of the narrative -- no matter the medium. "Narrative is the way we simplify and make sense of a complex world. It supplies context, insight, interpretation -- all the things that make data meaningful and analytics more relevant and interesting," he wrote in "Why data storytelling is so important -- and why we're so bad at it," which was published in January 2015.

Other experts, such as consultant Howard Dresner, describe data storytelling as a set of features within visualization tools that enable a more interactive experience with the data. "What if I simply want to send you a presentation and have you go through it and understand a point I'm trying to make? That's where data storytelling can be useful. And many of the business intelligence tools are now including some semblance of data storytelling features for exactly that purpose," he told SearchCIO.com in "Data storytelling is the next big thing in collaborative computing," which was published in July 2015.

Examples of data storytellers in the workplace are beginning to emerge. Pamela Peele, chief analytics officer at UPMC's insurance services division in Pittsburgh, hired a journalist to take on data storytelling responsibilities. At the other end of the spectrum, Automated Insights has developed technology that turns data, such as statistics from a baseball game, into Associated Press wire stories; the company soon hopes to provide a similar service for business departments, where it would turn sales or marketing data into news stories.

This was last updated in December 2015

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