Persuasion or Manipulation

Scott Berinato, in his chapter “Persuasion or Manipulation” from his book Good Charts, discusses the importance of details when it comes to preparing and creating graphs.  Every aspect of the graph must be done a certain way depending on the message the creator is trying to get across and if a detail is not done properly the graph can and will end up portraying the wrong message.  Early on in the chapter, he uses a great example of how small detail changes can effect a graph dramatically.  An employee was asked by her boss to create a chart depicting the job satisfaction for their company and the “drastic” changes they expect in the near future.  The employee drew a graph with the y-axis ranging from 1-10, as does the scale for job satisfaction.  Because of this, the lines on the chart looked relatively flat and similar because the largest difference at any given age was only about .5.  However, the boss wanted to make it look like a dramatic change and therefore edited the y-axis to only range from 6.4 to 7.8, resulting in the lines on the chart looking extremely spaced out and different.  This was a prime example of how one small detail can completely change the image of the chart.

This chapter is actually very enlightening because so far in class we have been discussing how charts and graphs can be done very poorly and end up not getting across any sort of idea.  We have talked about how we can change and edit those graphs to make them better and what we would do differently.  This chapter, however, makes you realize that a graph can be done properly, at least in the eyes of the creator, and yet it could easily be changed and represent something completely different even with the same data.  You could use data to represent information in a positive way, depending on who you are delivering the information to, and then turn it around and portray the same data in a negative way to someone else.  It makes me wonder how many graphs I have seen in my lifetime that seemed positive at first glance, but if I would have analyzed them further if I could have realized that it wasn’t positive at all.


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