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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Data Journalism Tips

Tricky Questions Buried in the Number

Jennifer LaFleur,Ricardo Sandoval Palos,Chrys Wu

1. Double-check your data and your analysis:

  • Integrity-check your data.
    • Read the documentation.
    • Know how many records you should have.
    • Check counts and totals against reports.
    • Are all possibilities included? All states, all counties, correct ranges?
    • Check for missing data, duplicates, internal problems.
  • Beware the spurious correlation.
  • Use terms such as "significant", "likely" and "correlation" correctly.
  • Do a gut check on your analysis.
  • Ask:
    • What else could explain my findings?
    • Did I fill in all possible holes?
    • Did I collect all the data I needed to?
  • The analysis is just the beginning. Once you start reporting, ask: Is it consistent with my findings?
  • Run your results by experts.
  • With publication, provide a detailed methodology about the data and your process.
  • Invite feedback and corrections.

Jennifer LaFleur, Senior Editor for Data Journalism, Center for Investigative Reporting.

2. Double-check your reporting:

  • Test your data.
  • Test the questions you intend to ask of your data.
  • Challenge your assumptions and your findings.
  • Have a second pair of educated eyes look at your data and your conclusions.
  • Think through, thoroughly, how you will present your data.

Ricardo Sandoval Palos, Senior editor, NPR's Morning Edition.

3. Present your data clearly:

  • Take courses to train yourself how to think about data visualization.
  • Find examples in which data is presented in an informative way.
  • If you're going to try something beyond a pie or bar chart, include annotation to explain what you are doing and why.
  • Make the underlying data available, but always with context to assist analysis.

Chrys Wu, Developer Advocate, The New York Times.

Presented at IRE14, San Francisco, 2014.

Jan 1, 2014