Data story-telling with Google SheetsSyah Ismail
A picture is worth a thousand words, especially at work. The data we present every day is what helps us drive decision-making in the workplace. However, understanding how to visualise a story can be difficult if you’re left staring at numbers sitting stagnant in rows or columns within a spreadsheet.
This is where visualisation with charts and reports becomes critical. In Google Sheets, there are several built-in tools that make it easy to create and share useful charts and reports so that you can quickly visualise data without having to leave the spreadsheet.
1. Pick the most compelling way to visualise your data
Perhaps just as important as the data you reference is the way in which you present it. Charts are the basic building blocks for data visualisation and can take many forms including bar charts, line graphs and scatter plots. There are more than 30 chart types to choose from in Sheets and Google is constantly adding more ways to express your data.
- To draw attention to a key metric or KPI, try the brand new scorecard chart. For example, you can show the total sales number for your organisation’s top-selling product and even call out percentage increase or decrease over time.
- To illustrate how values add to or subtract from a starting value, try a waterfall chart. For example, show how your product sales and restocking efforts led to a net decrease in inventory from last quarter to this quarter.
- To represent different data series using lines and bars, try a combo chart. For example, you can show revenue in bars and profit margin in a line across the same chart, giving you a more complete picture of your organisation’s financial health.
If you’re unsure how to best present your data, Google’s built-in machine learning can help you choose the right visualisation. Sheets intelligently suggests charts for you. Simply highlight data you would like to visualise, click the chart button and then select one of the suggested charts. According to Google, more than 1.5 million charts are inserted into Sheets each week based on intelligent recommendations.
2. Be sure to tell a complete story
Data really comes to life when you put several charts and tables together into a report or dashboard. Going back to our sales data example, an individual line graph showing revenue over time gives you quick insight into the general sales trend for your organisation but when you surround that line graph with other charts and tables like a pie chart showing total revenue breakdown by product or a stacked bar chart comparing revenue driven by each sales team, you can tell a more complete story.
If you do build reports featuring multiple charts, there are ways that Sheets can help you organise and format them more quickly. Earlier this year, Google made it easier to align, size, and position objects within your spreadsheets so you can quickly put several charts together. Google also recently added themes, which let you alter the look and feel of an entire spreadsheet including charts, pivot tables and cells to ensure a consistent look and feel across the elements in your report. To apply a preset theme, select Format > Theme and choose the right option. Faster formatting can mean faster reporting.
3. Share reports with others to influence decisions
Now that you have a compelling, data-driven story, you’re better equipped to influence the decisions of your colleagues. However, charts and reports are only valuable if they can easily be shared with others. With G Suite, you can share visualisations in Sheets with a click or even embed charts into other G Suite apps like Google Docs or Slides.
It’s also possible to turn your reports into self-service tools for others. If they want to see data only for their particular region in your global sales report, there are ways to filter reports or dashboards by condition or values. This way, people can answer questions for themselves and easily drill down into the particular cuts of data that interest them most.
Lastly, because all of these visualisations are built in the cloud in G Suite, your information can stay up-to-date. Charts and reports automatically update as the underlying data is changed in Sheets and with the simple click of a button, you can refresh charts that you have embedded in Docs and Slides.