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Paper: An Argument Structure for Data Stories

There is talk about stories having a beginning, middle, and end, but what does that mean for data stories? How do you create the overall structure for those? In a paper to be presented at EuroVis next week, I discuss a simple but very useful structure that I have found "in the wild," and that I believe to be useful and generalizable.

Let's face it: most stories are boring. That is especially true of data stories. Many attempts at classifying and categorizing these stories start with the good ones, but then also have to slog through the swamp of terrible, unstructured crap that is out there.

Instead, I simply ignored all the bad stories and looked at just a very small number of the good ones. What do they have in common? It turns out, there is a common pattern for some of them. And I believe it's a very useful one: make a claim, provide evidence, conclude by tying the evidence back to the claim.

As simple as it sounds, this is not a common pattern. In fact, I only know of about half a dozen examples that really do this. But those work very well. There are of course some variations: some stories include explanations about how to read the graphs, some have subsections, the number of steps varies, etc. But the basic structure is still there.

In the paper, I describe the examples in depth and formalize the pattern a bit. This might seem like overkill for such a simple idea, but the simplest ideas sometimes need the most help to be understood. I know it's not very academic to blow your own trumpet, but I do believe that this is among the most immediately useful and practical papers about storytelling so far.

BTW, the reviewers complained that the paper didn't contain any visualizations, though it does have a few figures that show story structure (which are a sort of visualization). But even if I'd had the space, it would have been impossible to get the rights to use the examples I'm referring to, unfortunately.

Robert Kosara, An Argument Structure for Data Stories, Short Paper Proceedings of the Eurographics/IEEE VGTC Symposium on Visualization (EuroVis), 2017.

Posted by Robert Kosara on June 7, 2017. Filed under paper, papers.