A picture tells a thousand words - data visualisation as an explorative method for qualitative researchers

Apr 17, 2024 8:30 AM — 1:00 PM
DH-IGNITE Northern Region


A hands-on workshop where we turn your data into pictures and then discuss what this reveals.


The workshop will teach academics how to think about data and to identify and implement visualisations, based on particular functions such as comparisons, proportions, hierarchies, relationships and trends over time. It will encourage them to then interpret these images and to try and see stories within the data


The workshop will be a hands-on workshop during which you will be able to follow along and try out various visualisations. It will also incorporate discussions around the interpretation of the data.


Participants should be familiar with the idea of a spreadsheet and how data is represented in rows and columns.

Participants should ideally have some basic knowledge of graphs and know terminology such as X-axis, Y-axis, line graph and pie graph.


Humanities scholars and Social Scientists who are adventurous enough to try out a new tool to see their data and the world differently. Researchers who are aware that data is everywhere, and that we need more tools to visualise the ubiquitous data that are constantly being generated.


  • A laptop
  • Internet connectivity (check that Eduroam wifi works)
  • A web browser like Google Chrome installed
  • Ideally an installation of Excel
  • You need to be able to see, as the workshop relies on a degree of vision.


  • Data visualisation as an exploratory tool for qualitative research
  • Basic principles and functions of Raw Graphs 2.0
  • Visualising the possibilities of this method through playing with example data and graphs
  • Understanding different types of chart functions
  • Cleaning and arranging data for visualisation
  • Setting up the data in Raw Graphs
  • Choosing a graph type
  • Adjusting graph variables
  • Interpreting a graph like a map
  • Identifying possibilities for further research
  • Making the graph’s meaning clear to your readers
  • Colour schemes as design tools
  • Applying design principles to make a graph visualisation

You will get a chance to play with the data yourself and to make a variety of visualisations. You will learn to play around and change the settings for your graph.

Colour and data visualisation

We will learn about different types of colour palettes and why monochrome and analogous colour schemes are often best for data visualisations. You will be introduced to the online tool Coolers and how to choose and apply a colour scheme from there.

Finding data online and preparing it for visualisation

We will explore various sites for Open African Data and download a dataset. What is it that interests you? You will learn how to clean your data - do you have a weird header sentence in Row 1? Is your data labelled correctly? Is there too much data for a visualisation? Is your data in the wrong format?

Deciding on a type of visualisation

Do you want to visualise a comparison between several countries? Or do you want to show the proportion of a budget that is spent on a particular expense? Perhaps you want to show trends over time? Or you want to show the relationship between different factors? Learn what graphs are most suitable for different ideas you want to communicate?


Not all of us are comfortable making sense of large collections of numbers. But as human beings, we are all instinctively able to find patterns in pictures. Data visualisation enables researchers to identify interesting patterns in their data and then to use this as a starting point for further explorations. It may sound complicated, but it is actually easier than you think.


Dr Henri-Count Evans teaches Data Journalism at eSwatini University and leads various training initiatives on climate change for journalists.

Dr Alette Schoon teaches in the School of Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes University and leads a group of Digital Humanities researchers.