How to create your first data story in Tableau

The Story feature in Tableau can be a useful data visualization tool when you are drilling down on a dataset from general to specific. This tutorial shows you the basics.

British shorthair cats and Golden Retriever

Image: chendongshan, Getty Images/iStockphoto

As modern businesses generate more and more data, it has become increasingly more difficult to draw useful information out of the raw stream. Finding and communicating actionable information requires an effective set of tools designed specifically for that purpose.

Highly educated data scientists with training and experience in data visualization techniques are becoming more common in large enterprises, but small businesses do not have the resources to hire such experts. Inexpensive and accessible data visualization tools provided by vendors like Tableau Software are designed to help tell the story of your data without requiring you to have an advanced degree.

This how-to tutorial shows you how to create a simple story using basic tools found in Tableau.

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Create your first data story in Tableau

As we did in the previously published article on data visualizations, we will be using free sample data provided by the resources page of the Tableau Public website. Specifically, the Cat vs. Dog Popularity in the US dataset. You can download the dataset, in the form of an Excel worksheet, to any folder on your computer.

SEE: How to create your first Tableau Software data visualization chart (TechRepublic)

For our example, we will separate four data points into their own sheets and then use them to create a story that explains the data's importance. Figure A shows what we are working with before we start our new Story.

Figure A

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Click the Story tab on the menu and select New Story from the submenu. As you can see in Figure B, our new story is blank but our four separate sheets highlighting our data points are listed in the left-hand list.

Figure B

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The Story feature in Tableau can be a useful communication tool when you are drilling down on a dataset from general to specific or when going the other way, drilling up from specific to general. This movement through the data helps your audience visualize relationships between and among data points.

SEE: 4 tips for using data visualization in a board presentation (TechRepublic)

We start off with one blank storyboard, but we know we need three more, so click the Blank button to add them. Drag the first sheet representing an important data point in the story of our data to the first storyboard as shown in Figure C. Of course, we will want to give it a descriptive name.

Figure C

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We will follow up with the three remaining data points. To make our data's story a bit more compelling, let's emphasize that California has the most households with both cats and dogs. We do this by adding a blank sheet in the middle of our story, and then adding a data point and a description box, as shown in Figure D, to highlight this fact.

Figure D

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The next chapter in our data story reveals the significance of percentages in our dataset. When considering the percentage of households owning either a cat or dog in a particular state, the data shows Vermont (Cats) and Arkansas (Dogs) lead the way, as you see in Figure E.

Figure E

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To see what your story looks like when complete, press F7 (function key 7) to change into presentation mode, as shown in Figure F. Readers and presenters can move back and forth through the data by clicking on one of the title cards.

Figure F

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Obviously, this is a simplified example, but you can see the potential of telling your data's story, whatever it may be, using visualization tools. The ability to glean vital, actionable information from the raw data generated by your business could be the key to gaining a competitive advantage. Tableau and other data visualization tools bring these capabilities to small businesses.

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