Creating an engaging narrative

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Presenting narrative in data-driven storytelling

The final element of a data story is the narrative. The narrative explains the data and visualisation to the audience, provides important context, and conveys why the story is significant.

Data narratives often resemble other kinds of stories with which you are familiar. They typically begin with the question you explored in your analysis, which sets the scene and helps capture your audience’s attention.

The narrative then introduces the data visualisation, and uses it to illuminate and answer the initial question. These details provide the substance of the data story.

Finally, a story narrative puts the data in context and explains why it is significant.

The joy of stats – video

This video by Swedish statistician Hans Rosling demonstrates how data, visualisation, and narrative can create a highly engaging data story.

Try to identify the data storytelling elements as you watch the video.

Tips for data-driven stories

It’s easy to get carried away with charts and graphs when creating data-driven stories, but remember that at the heart of your storytelling you should be looking at the impact of the data in the real world. Try to include the “human dimension” in your data narrative.

  • Narratives that are heavy on abstract numbers are unlikely to be engaging.
  • Narratives that describe the impact on real people are memorable.
  • Some narratives include actual stories of real individuals or families.

Remember that readers won’t be as familiar with your data as you are, and are likely not data experts. Your narrative should provide enough context to make the data understandable, but avoid providing too much detail. Focus on what’s most important, and avoid trying to explain every nuance.

Just look at the example below (from 9 Worst Data Visualisations Ever Created). There’s just too much going on…


Interactivity in data-driven storytelling

The team at Passmark, in South Africa, have spent a long time gathering data about government schools in the country. This investigation looked at the number of schools in each province which don’t have access to proper sanitation, despite legislation mandating the end of “pit toilets”.

Readers can scroll up and down the page to see how schools in their province are being developed.

This kind of story requires a lot of expertise and teamwork in developing the map and integrating with a website.

Tools such as Mural can help you build websites similar to this.

Telling stories with static graphics

Even if you are able to create interactive data-driven stories, remember your audience and publishing platform may not have the right technology to present or read them.

Below is an example of using infographics in a text-based story, published in The Star in Kenya.

More tools for visualising data


Datawrapper is an online service specifically for creating and sharing visualised data. It was originally designed for journalists, and is very simple to use. However, the free version has limited features.

Tableau Public

Tableau Public is a data visualisation service similar to Datawrapper. Tableau Public is free but requires you to download and install the software.

Adobe Illustrator

Adobe Illustrator is a proprietary software application for creating drawings, illustrations, vectors and artwork.


Flourish is a web-based application for creating charts and maps.

Google Earth Pro

Google Earth Pro lets you view satellite imagery, maps, terrain, 3D buildings anywhere on Earth.

Google Data Studio

Google Data Studio has Interactive dashboards and beautiful reports to showcase data


Here is a collection of geospatial related sources, including cartographic tools, geoanalysis tools, developer tools, data, conference & communities, news, massive open online course, some amazing map sites, and more. 


Workbench is a web-based platform for cleaning, scraping and analyzing data without code. Introduction course found here


Carto is a platform that provides GIS and web mapping tools for display in a web browser.

Map me

Map Me is a platform used to build maps. Add locations with photos, video, 360 tours.

Noun Project

The Noun project is a website that aggregates and catalogues symbols and icons that are created and uploaded by graphic designers around the world.

Timeline JS

Timeline JS created by Knight Lab is a tool for easy to make timeline graphics.


Juxtapose created by Knight Lab helps storytellers compare two pieces of similar media, including photos, and GIFs.


Mapbox is an open source mapping platform for custom designed maps.


Kumu makes it easy to organise complex data into relationship visualisations.

More Visualisation ideas can be found at Xeno Graphics

Open-source tools

There are also open source data visualisation resources that offer great flexibility but require programming expertise. Chart.js and D3 can create a wide range of data visualisations; Leaflet is good for creating online maps.

Data journalism resources

Data journalists use special techniques and skills to discover, analyse, and present data in narrative forms. Many good courses in data journalism are available online.

Data journalism handbook

A living collection of essays and case studies by dozens of experts on data journalism. This handbook is intended to be a useful resource for those interested in becoming a data journalist. It is available online or in print.

To learn more, visit the Data Journalism Handbook.

Data Journalism Tools

The Knight Science Journalism Program provides a collection of essential resources for data journalists, including data sources, software tools, and learning materials.

To learn more, visit the Knight Science Journalism website.

Doing Journalism With Data

Provides training in the fundamental skills of data journalism in an online course similar to this one.

To learn more, visit the Doing Journalism with Data website.


ProPublica is an independent, non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest. They provide a Nerd Guide, including Intro: The Design and Structure of a News Application; Data Style Guide; and Data Bulletproofing Guide. 

To learn more, visit Github.

European Journalism Centre

The European Journalism Centre helps journalists improve people’s lives through access to information, data and new perspectives. They provide various training materials.

To learn more, visit the European Journalism Centre website.

You can also try out the StoryLab Academy’s Data Journalism courses, here.