4 books to boost your data storytelling skills


Whether you are an analyst, a business operations professional, a top mobile team leader or a senior executive, working with data is now a critical success factor in advancing your career. While hardcore data skills such as proficiency in math and computer science are essential, softer skills are just as important and sometimes harder to master.

Soft data skills involve being able to communicate your vision and persuade stakeholders with a compelling story. Unfortunately, most data science courses do not teach these skills, making it difficult to acquire these types of skills.

To advance your personal development on the data storytelling front, consider these valuable books:

By Michael J. Marquardt

Why should you read it: When I studied engineering in college, I had a professor who said, “In the real world, finding the answers is the easiest part. It is much more difficult to ask the right questions. This stuck with me as I built a career as a data operator and data-driven manager. Before we start tinkering with data preparation, data analysis, or visualizations, it is essential to be based on the questions we are trying to answer. Additionally, when we manage teams tasked with delivering data-driven insights, it’s important to frame the questions for our teams and mentor others to ask the right questions.

[ Read also: 9 must-read books to make you a stronger communicator and  10 leadership books to stretch your skills in 2021. ]

By Edward R. Tufte

Why should you read it: Edward Tufte used to advertise his workshops with an insert in Economist Magazine showing a famous chart of Napoleon’s losses during a war with Russia. Visual explanations is a hands-on introduction on how to communicate massive amounts of quantitative information to others with charts, graphs, and other data visualizations. Even the most seasoned data consumers benefit from data visualization – the eyes can often detect trends and patterns that quantitative techniques such as regression and time series analysis will confirm. And tables and charts serve as valuable illustrations to communicate the facts that policymakers need to focus on.

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By Davina Stanley

Why should you read it: Before creating any type of communication – an email, a report, a group presentation or a conversation with a manager – it is essential to have a “so what” in mind. Just displaying data or data visualizations for fun is a waste of time. At best, your audience will politely digest and try to come up with their own ideas. More likely, they will disconnect and stop paying attention. Big data operators use insightful data analysis and supporting visualizations to advance their perspective, advance the conversation, and help their organization make data-driven decisions.

By Will Storr

Why should you read it: All of the above points are part of the data narration. If you want to move teams forward, prepare a story that’s backed up by hard facts with a data display. Great storytellers know how to use pictures and written prose to get their audience to understand. They set the scene by articulately describing the current state of affairs and painting an image in the minds of their audience. They introduce conflicts and complications that make their audience understand that a decision needs to be made or action needs to be taken. And they provide a solution to their audience’s angst in the form of a solid recommendation backed up by the facts presented along the way.

Data operators need to focus on developing their soft skills just as they add new quantitative techniques to their arsenal of tools. Becoming an expert in these techniques takes practice, experimentation, and teaching of what works. Although hard data skills are in high demand, investing in your soft data skills is essential to advancing your career as a data-driven leader.

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