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10 Unbreakable Rules for Using Text in a Data Visualization

In the world of data visualization, there are some basic, unbreakable rules for using text that will enhance and clarify the graphics in your data viz. Always keep the following rules in mind as you create your data visualizations:

  • Always use as few words as possible: The whole idea of using visuals is defeated if you use lots of words to explain each item.

  • Stick to simple words or single characters: A data viz should be scannable, which means that you can get the gist at a glance. Single words and characters facilitate the ability to scan.

  • Use single lines of text: Don't create sentences, a few words in a line will do.

  • Labels should be strategically positioned near the data viz: People assume that things that are adjacent to one another are related. Make sure your labels make it clear which chart it's attached to.

  • Keep all text horizontal: This one is obvious. No one should have to tilt their head to the side to read something.

  • Keep all text within range of the visual so that the visual is compact: You don't want the data visualization to be sprawling all over the page. Keep text close so that the data viz is not oversized for the screen.

  • Make important text a little bigger: People make the assumption that larger text is more important than smaller text. Use this premise to call attention to something that's important.

  • Avoid using all caps: All caps on the web signify screaming. No need to shout in your data viz.

  • Use consistency in the size of text: This is just good design. Don't use different fonts and text sizes. Your data viz will wind up looking like a ransom note.

  • Avoid fancy or custom fonts: Everything about your data viz should be pared down and simple. Stay away from fonts that are overly ornate.

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