Simple Steps for Great Graphics: Beyond the Default Settings for More Effective Data Visualization

Kristi Metzger
Children's Hospital of Philadelphia


Graphs are an efficient way to present large quantities of data. The human brain is able to recognize patterns in pictures more easily than numbers or text. In oral presentations and written reports, researchers often use graphic displays of data to help tell the story of their research. Data visualization expert Stephanie Evergreen has cited that the default settings in statistical software packages are one of the biggest obstacles to effective data visualization. Features of better graphics, such as more white space, clean lines, and judicious use of color, are not automatic with the default settings in SAS. A few extra lines of code in your graphing programs can easily produce more effective data visualization graphics. Maximize white space by reducing clutter, such as by eliminating borders and removing default text like titles and labels. The graph axes can be streamlined by using appropriate ranges, intervals, and scales. Axes labels and value labels should be used appropriately, but sparingly. The default colors in SAS can be distracting; better use of color can enhance the readability of graphs. Graph colors may be chosen based on a company brand, journal requirements, or other objective, including accessibility for color-blind persons. Color may also be used to highlight a particular data point. These simple steps can improve your SAS graphs in order to better communicate your story.