Essential Data Visualization Tools

We’ve collected the most basic tools you’ll need to acquire, analyze, and visualize your data.

REMEMBER: Data visualizations are simply a way to convey a complex message that would, in other forms, be difficult to grasp or take too long. Do not make the mistake of substituting a fancy visual for a clear message. This is easy to do, especially if you don’t have a clear sense of your target audience, strategic messaging, and an understanding of how your visualization will contribute to your goal(s). This is why we emphasize that your visualizations be embedded in a solid advocacy campaign plan.

  • Tabula — Helps you liberate data tables trapped inside PDFs.
  • ScraperWiki — A web-based platform (or data hub) where programmers write scripts to acquire, clean, and analyze data sets from web sites. They also provide a range of fee-based data services. See the ScraperWiki in 3 Minutes video tour.
  • Open Refine — Use it to wrangle your data into shape for analysis and visualization. Check out this screencast »
  • Google Spreadsheet — Use it to create forms for data acquisition, or to analyse and visualize data.
  • Google Fusion Tables — Use Fusion Tables to combine datasets. You can even create interactive maps and embed them in your stories, projects, and more.
  • R — Free software for statistical computing and graphics. Use it to both analyze (or “mine”) and visualize a dataset. From R, you can import your file as a PDF into Illustrator. (See Nathan Yau’s list of resources for getting started with R.)
  • Tableau Public — A free service that lets anyone publish interactive data to the web where others can interact with it, download it, or create their own visualizations. No programming skills required.
  • Illustrator or Inkscape — Illustrator is the (expensive) industry standard for creating visualizations and infographics. Inkscape is a free, open-source alternative. Both provide control over all the elements in your graphic: color, stroke, font, orientation, etc. There is a bit of a learning curve, but also a lot of good learning resources online.

Nathan Yau provides more extensive list on FlowingData.com.