Torture Test Your Reports

Torture Test Your Reports

In his recent eMetrics San Francisco session about effective reporting and data visualization, Ian Lurie of Portent emphasized

To be successful, you must be understood.

So it’s up to you, presenter of analysis or creator of reports, to do the heavy-lifting work necessary to be understood.  And it’s not easy.

When dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion, creatures bustling with prejudices and motivated by pride and vanity.
– Dale Carnegie

Recognizing that people are busy, impatient and wrapped up in their own world, the onus is on you to make sure you are understood.

Therefore, here are 3 Torture Test Questions you should ask of your charts, dashboards, commentary, presentations and reports:

  1. Is the meaning, benefit or necessary action so obvious it does not have to be explained?
  2. Is it “glance-able”? *
  3. Is someone who doesn’t know anything about this going to understand this? **

Ian had several great examples of the iterative process of crafting clear visualizations.  You can review his full presentation, but this example of the journey to visual clarity is my favourite.

  1. Looking at the trends of Facebook growth for Milt Romney and Barack Obama during the 2012 presidential race, there appears to be some sort of opposing trend, but you’re not sure.Facebook Growth - Romney/Obama 1
  2. Graphing the two data sets separately clarifies the patterns.fb-growth2
  3. Indicating the timing of the Republication National Convention (RNC) provides interesting context.fb-growth3
  4. Add the timing of the Democratic National Convention and “Aha!” happens at a glance.


As you can see, achieving clarity takes work.  It’s difficult and time consuming to extract the essence and communicate with clarity.  But worth it if you want to be understood.

In closing, and since we’re talking about presidents, a few words from Woodrow Wilson.

If I am to speak ten minutes, I need a week for preparation; if fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now.


* “Glance-able” – a term used by Justin Richmond, Apollo Group another eMetrics San Francisco speaker
** From Ian Lurie


By |2018-07-25T11:41:28-04:00April 18th, 2013|0 Comments
Categories: Analyst Capability

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