Graphs: a good way to give numbers personality

I am not very good with numbers — unless, of course, they are baseball statistics. This is why I never looked into a future in either math or science.

The extent of my math skills lies somewhere in the realm of simple addition and subtraction. However, I managed to make it through my required math classes with relative ease, albeit with a little help from my friends. Through it all, graphs always seemed to be another monotonous aspect of the math world.

Graphs are the one aspect of math that you can never really get away from. I certainly see the merit in their many uses, as they really are a great way to look for and analyze data and whatnot. I just had an aversion to anything math-related. Beyond that irrational dislike for numbers, graphs are not all that bad.

Don’t get me wrong. I have always appreciated graphs for their usefulness and all, but I never saw them as anything other than supplemental material to whatever work I was doing. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think you could have fun designing a survey and then creating several graphs that demonstrate different aspects of the survey data. Well, just like so many other things in life, you never really know about something until you have to do it. One of my graduate classes this semester focuses on infographics, and, lo and behold, things unfolded quite differently than I anticipated: I actually found myself liking graphs.

One of the first things I did was create a survey that asked people to identify all 50 states in the U.S., then answer a few follow-up questions about American history. After compiling all the data and graphing it in various ways, I came upon the unfortunate truth that people do not know their country so well.

I really liked the plethora of different ways I could graph the data to tell the story of what I found. My personal favorite was using a color gradient overlaid on a map of the U.S., where states with darker shades represented better knowledge of that state.

That’s the thing I discovered this semester about graphs: They provide a colorful and interesting way to tell a story with numbers. Granted, I am sure that numbers on their own are enough to excite some folks, but you cannot deny that adding a bit of color can really make those numbers pop.

Infographics of course, cover a wide variety of graphs combined with data in a various sorts of ways — not just your traditional pie, bar and line graphs. There are a great many interesting infographics out there that have been designed in various ways, which is what I think hooked me in the first place.

It still kind of shocks me that I’ve actually developed an affinity for graphs, even more so while I’m writing this, but I guess it can’t hurt to be a more well-rounded individual. That is the thing: There is no real way to give numbers a personality, and that is where graphs come in. It is up to the person making the graph to give those numbers a story of sorts, one that not only makes the data clearly understandable but intriguing as well.

Now, I am not so sure putting on my resume that I am good at making graphs will get me hired anywhere, but at least it makes numbers a little more entertaining for me!

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