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Unraveling the Difference: Data Visualization, Dashboards, and Data Stories Defined

In today's age of information, understanding and interpreting data has become essential. As data has become more pervasive, a slew of terminologies like "data visualization" and "data storytelling" have entered our lexicon. Often, these terms are used interchangeably, leading to confusion. In this article, I'll delve into the distinctions and nuances between these concepts, painting a clearer picture of their unique characteristics.

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A Shared Language

Different roles within an organization talk about data in different ways. Just like any language, fluency with data terminology varies with each user’s interaction with it brings them into different levels of granularity needed for understanding. With the difference between data visualization, dashboards, and data stories defined, a common language can be established. Establishing a common language around data is a first step in improving data literacy in organizations. Having a shared understanding of the basic terminology of data is a first step in building a data culture.

Data Visualization, Dashboards, and Data Stories: Differences Defined


At its core, data refers to raw facts and statistics that have been collected for reference or analysis. It is the foundation upon which all subsequent processes are based. Data, in isolation, can appear overwhelming or nonsensical. The real value emerges when it is processed, analyzed, and presented in a way that it can be understood and used for decision-making.

Data Showing

Data Showing is perhaps the most basic form of representing data. It involves presenting data as it is without adding significant interpretation or insight. Think of a spreadsheet filled with numbers – while it "shows" the data, it doesn't necessarily make it easy for viewers to grasp its meaning or significance.

Data Sharing

Data sharing is the practice of making data available to others. This could be within an organization or with the public. It's the act of providing access, but without a mandate on how it should be interpreted. The main objective is to enable multiple entities to derive their own insights or interpretations from the shared data set.

Data Visualization

Data Visualization goes a step beyond mere showing. It involves representing data in a graphical or pictorial form, making it easier for users to identify patterns, trends, and outliers. Through graphs, charts, and other visual aids, complex data is transformed into a format that is both accessible and aesthetically pleasing. The aim is to facilitate a deeper understanding of the data without having to sift through dense tables of raw figures.

Data Storytelling

Data Storytelling, sometimes referred to as analytical or visual storytelling, takes visualization to the next level. It's not just about presenting data but weaving it into a narrative. This narrative contextualizes the data, providing background, reasoning, and insight. A good data story can guide the viewer, helping them not only understand the "what" but also the "why" and "how". It's a bridge between raw data and actionable insights.


Dashboards serve as a hub for data representation, often incorporating elements of both visualization and storytelling. They provide an at-a-glance view of key metrics and data points, typically designed to assist in quick decision-making. By consolidating multiple data sources and visual elements, dashboards offer a comprehensive overview of a particular subject or business function.


While the terms 'data visualization' and 'data storytelling' are frequently used in similar contexts, they represent different stages in the journey from raw data to actionable insights. Both are vital in the modern world, where data-driven decisions are becoming the expectation in organizations. By understanding their distinctions, we can better harness the power of data, moving from mere numbers on a page to transformative narratives that drive action.

profile picture of blog author Roseanna Galindo

Roseanna Galindo, ECBA, CAVS

Roseanna Galindo is Principal at Periscope Business Process Analysis and a champion for data literacy, the human experience in healthcare, and leaders of volunteers everywhere. Learn more about Roseanna and her blog, The Periscope Insighter, by reading the opening post, Venn The Time Is Right


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