How to visualize your research

Proper visualization is the best way to make your data stand out, and therefore get remembered. Illustrating the study area, the subject of interest, or the research results multiplies your chances not only of getting a good grade for your paper, but also of making a dent in the professor’s memory. To improve your grade today and your end-of-year score tomorrow, apply a non-standard approach to putting your thoughts on paper by crafting them into outstanding visuals.

Data visualization is found in so many forms today that they even have a special course for it at almost every college. Thinking pie charts? Think twice—they are so 1960. Put your daily scrolling to good use. When an infotainment piece grabs your attention on the web today, hit “like” and then use the same approach for your study.

But does it meet academic requirements?

It does, and there’s even more. In the research papers evaluation handbook, “tables and diagrams” fall under “organization” criteria, which accounts for 20% of the paper grade. “Content originality”, in its turn, brings another 30%. A great visualization therefore bears a chance of nailing down half of the paper grade in one single breathe.

The only guidelines you should follow strictly are the proper ways of incorporating your illustrative material into the body of research. There are three acceptable locations for illustrations:

  • within the chapter immediately following first reference to them
  • grouped at the end of the relevant chapter
  • grouped at the end of the thesis before the bibliography

Most common is when the visual immediately follows its initial citation or reference in the text. Identify your visuals with a title or caption, and a descriptor. Accompany with the source information—this is a must. To make the perfect impression, be consistent with the placement method you choose throughout the paper.

What elements in your research could benefit from creative execution?

Evaluate your material. What data or facts do you possess that can illustrate your thoughts and arguments for every paragraph of the paper? Make sure there’s enough flesh on them to turn into a rich asset. Out of the shortlisted options, which you think would give your teacher or lecturer their best break from the monotony of essay-marking?

  • For Geography-related majors, research papers require at least one map. Make it interactive et voilà, it brings engagement.
  • For Business and Management, Marketing and Data Science specialties, being able to present statistics impressively is a crucial skill that will definitely get you extra points. Get wild with the charts, you can do so much better than that old boring pie.
  • History papers typically “tell the story”, using masses of data. Wrap it in an engaging visual – your professor will be thankful for you saving his time. GIFs are perfect for illustrating timelines in just one pic.
  • English and Literature — seemingly the most old-school disciplines—will definitely benefit if you support the text with visual features. If you’re writing an essay on Dickens, pull together an interactive collage with a Dickens-era bookshelf. Add pop-up descriptions on each book cover. Now you’ve got solid proof for your thesis “Dickens was the funniest writer of his time”.

To choose a specific argument or fact to visualise, apply these criteria:

Is it exciting? – Boring subjects will rarely benefit from adorning them with time and money invested.

Is it complicated? – Facts that are too simple have either been visualized before, or just don’t need visualization.

Does it spark a discussion? – If it can’t be shown in the class and discussed for at least a minute, then it’s probably not worth the effort.

Researches show, that “unique visualization types had significantly higher memorability scores than common graphs (circles, area, points, bars, and lines). It appears that novel and unexpected visualizations can be better remembered than the visualizations with limited variability that we are exposed to since elementary school.”What Makes a Visualization Memorable?

So don’t be afraid to go bold when embellishing your paper. Below you will find a list of great up-to-date visualization options and tools.

How to choose the right visualization tool?

How far do your ambitions go with this assignment? Is it just getting an A, or do you aim for a firm handshake from the professor and tears of joy the next time you get your graded essay returned? Try implementing one of these tools in your next paper, and you’ll get it all.

  1. Flash spatial
  2. Perfect for Geography, History, Politics or Social Sciences papers. If you have any map-based data, overlap two pictures and let the reader compare them by moving the slider back and forth. A small step from spatial comparison, yet far more engaging and impressive.


    flash spatial example

  3. Maps
  4. Carto, for example, is a terrific tool for making amazing interactive maps. Leaflet is another one. Location-related facts are extremely helpful for illustrating pretty much any scientific research. Gather the metrics and build up a highly visible backdrop for your thesis.


  5. Videos
  6. Nothing says “I gave a major damn about this research” like a video file in your professor’s inbox. Presenting your research in a 3-minute speech is the best way of sifting through the backbone facts and wrapping them in the perfect form. Don’t overlook the screen recording option!


  7. Vox Pops
  8. This favorite tool of marketers will work perfectly with any science study involving people and opinions. Record your respondents in their natural habitat or via Skype and edit into a convincing illustrative interview for your thesis. Choose between “audience opinion” vs. “expert’s opinion” depending on your subject.

    Example of non-video vox pops

  9. Expressive Design Charts
  10. If you’re stuck with using charts of any kind, which usually happens in Business and Management and related disciplines, use this trick. Keep the chart, but pimp it up in a creative way, so your paper will immediately stand out and get remembered.


    expressive design charts example

  11. Interactive charts
  12. Nothing gets your reader more engaged than the possibility of tailoring your research to them personally. With a 5-dollar-help from a freelance programmer you can turn your data into a fun personalized illustration. Add some back-end work, and gather the data from your professors and fellow students for the further use.


    Years You Have Left to Live, Probably

    How You Will Die

  13. Street views / Panoramas
  14. Ten years from its launch, Google Street View has now become a powerful tool for illustrating Geography and Communities research. For instance, it can be used to predict the development of different city areas over time. Pull several layers in a timeline GIF to illustrate your findings, like in this example.


    street view example

    QUOTE: “It’s always nice when your research checks out with the view outside your window.” – Scott Duke Kominers, the Harvard Business School MBA Class of 1960 Associate Professor

  15. Infographics
  16. Creating infographics is a great help in learning, because it requires you to actually summarize concepts and identify certain things as important. It helps your professor to better evaluate your knowledge, too. A whole host of handy (and free) tools are out there to help you with the designs., Tableau and are just several to mention.

    NB: if the task involves promoting research among college communities, making a comprehensive infographic significantly increases your chances of getting noticed.


  17. SaaS Data Visualization Software
  18. Many businesses leverage data visualization tools through a SaaS subscription. These tools help organizations translate big data and their key metrics into digestable charts and graphics, helping them better understand how they’re tracking towards their goals. But students, universities, professors, and other researchers can use these tools as well to create dashboards to help interpret big data and research sets into easy-to-interpret visualizations. Those looking to implement a tool such as these should look at online review sites to compare the over 200 data visualization software products on the market.

    Examples of SaaS Data Visualization Software

    What else do you need to know?

    If you choose to work on your visualization with a freelancer, make sure not to leave it to the final day before submission. Creating images is time-consuming. Save yourself several wiggle days to input extra data as needed.

    When making a complicated visualization, skim to just one per academic paper to avoid clutter.

    One final piece of advice. Don’t assume that the visualization IS the research. First things first—your paper needs a strong hook, good thesis and all required chapters included. Do your best, and make your impressive illustration the cherry on top of this delicious cake.


    Spatial History Project

    Data-Driven Guides: Supporting Expressive Design for Information Graphics

    Researchers Use Google Street View to See the Future of Cities

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