How to Spot Trends in Your Infographics Data

By Justin Beegel, MBA, The Infographic World Team

One way to make a fact more meaningful to your infographics readers is to place it in context. For example, telling readers that the May unemployment rate in the United States is 9.4 percent doesn’t provide much education or illustration on its own, as shown in this figure. Is that rate good or bad? Is unemployment getting worse or easing up?

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When you place that rate on a bar graph with the unemployment rates of an entire year, though, a picture of economic health begins to develop: a trend (see the following figure).

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Some trends reveal themselves easily. Any numbers collected at regular intervals — such as state or national economic data, education statistics, demographic information, and certain medical and scientific data — can be used to show a trend. Here are some examples of data that can easily reveal trends:

  • Government spending

  • Voter turnout

  • Birth and death rates

  • Employment rates

  • Household and individual income

  • Mortgage rates

  • College enrollment

  • Recycling rates

Government agencies are a rich source of this type of data, and many of them update their statistics every month, making it easy to see trends developing. As a de facto reporter, though, you can and should seek out information from more than one source.

At times, you’ll be able to find links between the data offered by various agencies. You might need to create your own database to compare these two seemingly disparate figures.

For instance, the U.S. Federal Reserve System releases information on consumer debt each quarter. Referring to the unemployment rate example in the previous figure, correlating that chart with consumer-debt statistics may reveal something interesting about Americans’ spending habits. Are Americans spending less as unemployment rises or are they resorting to debt because more people are without regular paychecks? Or is there no apparent relationship?

Don’t try to force a relationship into your infographic. Let the data prove your point, not the other way around.

The big takeaway here is that looking for trends and charting them graphically can help a researcher craft a compelling narrative by posing and answering questions based on data.

When you present a correlation between two trends, be sure that a concrete link actually exists. Just because two trends occur at the same time doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re related. Do your research and make certain what you’re saying has a basis in fact, using clear language so the reader knows exactly the relation between two trends.

In that vast sea of data out there, navigating it isn’t always easy. When you’re looking for patterns and connections, make certain that your comparisons and correlations are accurate. When in doubt, interview an expert. Lots of agencies have media relations officers who can clear up your questions or connect you with experts who can help you.