Is your qualitative dataviz taking a backseat? A few extra minutes = rich data noticed!


Created by Chris Lysy

STOP depreciating your qualitative data by putting it into an appendix, or having six pages worth of themes, definitions, and examples. That’s rich information that you need to bring your stakeholders’ attention to! Like any data visualization, you want to draw readers in and make pile of data more digestible. Qualitative data might be dense but it’s no different.

So what is something easy I’ve started doing? Adding icons. Icons are a super easy way to tell your readers that the qualitative data confirmed something…or it didn’t. Or maybe it did — but only a little bit! Either in Excel (depending on how you build your qualitative tables) or Word, start inserting icons/images/GIFs (okay, maybe that’s a stretch) to indicate if a program outcome was achieved according to qualitative feedback. See my loaded and very fake example below.

First, I choose some icons (Excel or Word: Insert > Symbol or Image). Just like the charts you use to visualize quant, the icons should make sense. A giraffe or poo emoji might not be what you’re looking for (or, if it is, what an awesome evaluation).

After you’ve chosen icons, create a legend…because assumptions are dangerous.

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Now, incorporate the icons into your qualitative table. In ones I’ve done, I add it on the left most side — the FIRST place my stakeholders are looking. They can quickly see that the hypothesis was accepted…or not. This makes it easy for them to dive into what they need to read first. For example, your stakeholder might be most concerned that their program did not achieve the desired outcome (and if your survey questions answer your evaluation questions, this will be no problem to connect, right?!).

Here’s a super simple example…that took me all of a few seconds. Something sensical that compliments the dense text will help get qualitative data noticed.

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This doesn’t replace all the other important stuff (e.g., definition, frequency, etc.), but your stakeholders can get a snapshot of the results! 

  1. This is one very simple idea, and I bet you’ve seen some of the awesome resources put forth by Ann K. Emery, and Stephanie Evergreen on visualizing qualitative data. They are great ideas! But even with these awesome ideas, most of the reports I’ve seen in the past few months are still full of indigestible qual…NOT a great compliment to the awesome charts and graphs you’re probably making, right? So, my challenge to you is to start using the great resources available to you — and come up with your own!
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