June 18, 2019 Practice Points

Eight Considerations When Preparing Data Visualizations

Data visualizations can be among the most effective tools in conveying analytical results.

By Angela Sabbe and Jeremy Guinta

Data visualizations can be among the most effective tools in conveying analytical results. Here are some quick tips on how to maximize your data visualizations.

Data Visualizations Should Be:

  1. Observable. The graphic contains a fact or a trend that a lay person can see. Visuals should speak for themselves! Graphs should tell a story that ANYONE can follow. You should be able to show your graphic to someone and they should be able to interpret the meaning, trend, and story from the graph itself. If you need to be present to tell the story of the graph, then your graph should be reconsidered.  
  2. Objective. The graphic does not attempt to hide a fact or trend, nor does it attempt to create one that is not there. The graph does NOT hide or misrepresent anything; often, an incorrect or misleading title is applied to a graph.
  3. Original. The graphic contains verifiable data sources. Sources, any restrictions on the data, and any other condition that was used to create the graphic should be cited. Anyone should be able to re-create the graph from the information provided in the graph itself from the underlying data.
  4. Open. The graphic is clear and concise. Simple is best! Complicated graphs with many moving parts, fancy colors, arrows, and/or text boxes are confusing and difficult to explain and interpret.

Data Visualizations Should Have:

  1. Title. A simple but descriptive title that explains the graph; the title should be descriptive and tell the story. Good titles grab the attention of the viewer and explain what is happening.
  2. Caption. If the title is not enough to explain what is happening, then a caption should be added. Even if your report explains it in the text, consider adding a caption to help let the graph stand alone.
  3. Citations and Sources. The graph should include all data sources and citations. The graph should be thoroughly cited. If the graph was removed from the report completely (say as a trial exhibit), could it stand alone?
  4. Colors. Proper use of color is key to telling the story. Colors that flow together can hide trends and patterns, while colors that deviate wildly from each other can distract from the overall meaning. Balance is key.

Angela Sabbe is a managing director with Ankura in Los Angeles, California, and chairs the Consumer Litigation Committee’s Subcommittee on Electronic Transactions. Jeremy Guinta is a senior director with Ankura in Los Angeles and chairs the Employment & Labor Relations Law Committee’s Administrative Subcommittee.


Ankura is the Litigation Advisory Services Sponsor of the ABA Section of Litigation. This article should be not construed as an endorsement by the ABA or ABA Entities.


Copyright © 2019, American Bar Association. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association, the Section of Litigation, this committee, or the employer(s) of the author(s).