In a perfect world it’s easy to relay data in a way that is relatable to your audience and easy to interpret. In that same world, your audience is always the same people with a predictable taste in content, right? I wish it were true. It would make many marketers’ lives easier and we could all sit on Reddit for a few more hours every day.
Journalism has always focused on delivering information in a way that hooks the audience and keeps them engaged throughout a story. While using data is nothing new to journalists, data journalism is new in that it puts data front and center as the star of the content, often displaying the information in innovative ways.
Thanks to the constantly growing bank of content available on the Internet, we’re living in a data democracy. You no longer have to be a journalist or professional researcher to find data and use it to strengthen your content.
Whether you’re creating infographics or data-heavy articles, below are a few methods and tools to help you dig up valuable data that will make your content shine.
1. Get Lost in the Internet
While you can just pump keywords into a search engine and pray you’re shown the perfect link that tells you everything you’ve ever want to know, it isn’t always that simple.
Hans Rosling’s project, Gapminder, is a great way to collect data from around the world. There are simply too many statistics available to dive into this resource without some notion of what you’re looking for, so use this once you have a clear idea of what you’re focusing on.
Instead of trying to outdo or replicate some of the most labor-intensive content out there, use others’ brilliant data visualizations as a way to generate your own ideas. A great example is the project FilmStrips. Creating something like this handy interactive infographic looks like it would be quite an undertaking if you had a deadline of one day, right? Instead, you could narrow your topic to one focused aspect of the movie industry and use data from FilmStrips as a source.
2. Find Your Data
Is there enough data to execute your idea? Before picking a topic, you’ll need to research what data is available. The last thing you want is to start a project only to discover you can’t finish it due to inadequate information.
Check out the following data sources when testing the viability of your topic:
- Public records and government data. Governments collect a wealth of data and most of it is available to the public. Divorce rates, number of houses sold, or average pay of certain jobs, and unemployment rates are just a few of the statistics you can collect from government sites. Within the U.S., here is a great start to federal databases and state databases.
- General research. Use this list from the Journalist’s Toolbox to find databases on the Internet.
- Website demographics and traffic. Go to the Google DoubleClick Ad Planner and enter the target URL. Below is an example of the demographics for Wikipedia’s main page.
Knowing which types of data are even available is half the battle, but this will become second nature once you have more practice collecting data.
3. Determine Your Data’s Reliability
How reliable is the data you’re holding? Consider the following as a hierarchy of online sources, from most authoritative to least:
- Academic journals
- Studies and research reports
- Government sites
- University sites
- Newspapers and magazines
- Authoritative blogs
Many people are skeptical about the reliability of data that represents an entire population when only 1,000 or more people were surveyed. Believe it or not, when a survey has at least 1,000 people it has a margin of error of under 3 percent. At this point, you shouldn’t be concerned about the reliability of the info you find from surveys.
And while it may be extremely tempting to pull content from a site that may not be entirely legitimate, you shouldn’t take the easy way out. Assume your audience will comb through your content like it’s their job to look for mistakes. Keep that in mind when you’re considering taking shortcuts.
4. Present the Data
The data journalists over at the Seattle Times recommend that you allow your viewers to have the data you used. This adds a level of transparency and permits people to see how a conclusion was drawn using the info provided. If nothing else, always provide the source that you obtained your content from, if for nothing else than to give credit to the website from which the info was pulled.
If you’re struggling with data visualizations and need a kick start, here are a few options:
All of these options serve a purpose and while you shouldn’t spend a great deal of time on multiple items if they don’t work for you, you should at least consider all your options before delving into your projects.
5. Appeal to Active Users
There are three types of viewers: occasional users, data miners and active users.
- Occasional users are simply interested in seeing the data visualized and not necessarily the actual numbers. While these viewers are great for your metrics, you might want to consider how active users are viewing the info…
- Active users are members of the audience who take what you present, share it with their friends, and give feedback on your piece so that you can further improve your process of content creation.
- Data miners only want your data to use for other purposes. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If nothing else, you’re learning that your content has credibility and value to researchers.
With the ever-growing collection of data available on the Internet, anyone can use data to beef up their content with a lot less “fluff” and a lot more information. Using the above resources, you can find and collect data you can then build your content around.
How do you use data to strengthen your content? What are some great examples of data journalism you’ve seen? Let us know in the comments below.