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Data is everywhere. Data can be very useful in helping people make decisions. But, for it to be truly useful, you need to be able to see what the data is telling you. That is where data visualization comes in. We see examples of data visualization on a daily basis. Anytime you see a graph or a chart, that is a visual representation of data. It is much easier to identify trends in a color-coded graph, than it is by looking at large amounts of raw data.
Some of us may be very adept at using the chart feature built into spreadsheet programs. Both Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets have made this task rather simple. But there are limitations. It can become time-consuming to combine data from multiple sources if you are not familiar with more advanced functions like VLOOKUP or how to build nested IF functions.
Enter my inquiry of Google Data Studio. As I searched for an accessible tool to make sense of thousands of rows of data, I learned that Google Data Studio is free and can be connected to multiple and varied data sources to create beautiful, compelling data visualizations. In short, Google Data Studio allows you to tell a story with your data that drives action. While there are people who make entire careers out of this idea – we are looking at you Data Scientists – I wanted to learn more about tangible steps I could take to get started.
Before I get to the steps, I want to tell you that even if you have never used Google Data Studio before, you already know some things about how it works, especially if you are a user of Google Workspace. The menus are similar. Some of the features like inserting shapes and images work the same way as if you were working in Docs or Slides.
Keeping our prior knowledge in mind, let us take a look at four steps to get started with Google Data Studio:
- Identify your data.
- This is starting with the end in mind. Ask: What are you measuring? What questions are you trying to answer? Who is your audience and what will they do with this information? For example, are you measuring the progress of a specific school-wide initiative? Who needs to know about that progress – Admin? Staff? Students? The entire school community? These are some of the questions to ask and answer before you start building in Google Data Studio.
- Connect your data.
- Once the data has been identified and you know what you are going to be reporting on, you can connect your data to the Google Data Studio application by going to datastudio.google.com. Here you can create a report from a template or a blank report.
- To connect data to your report, select your data source. There are many options to choose from. For this post, we will focus on Google Sheets as the data source. Once the sheet is selected, you can then choose a specific tab of the spreadsheet. Note that you can connect multiple data sources to the same report. This is one of the reasons Google Data Studio supports more complex data processing.
- Build your report.
- You can utilize the features of Google Data Studio to customize the design and visual representation of the report, to illustrate what the data is showing. Add shapes and images to create a header. This is helpful to frame the report – add a title, logos, and other identifying information.
- Add graphs and tables to your report that will best tell your story. One of the most important things to remember is that the properties of the items in your report show on the right. Properties are the details attached to an item in the report that indicate which information is being represented and how the information is formatted.
- Share your report.
- Once your report is complete you can share it – publicly or to a select audience. Calling upon our prior knowledge on how to share cloud-based documents – Google Data Studio allows you to choose sharing permissions, based on your audience. You can also share a link to a report that lets people filter the data, but not edit the report and or have access to your raw data, creating a user-friendly data dashboard.
This is just a top-level overview to get you started as you explore Google Data Studio. I encourage you to give it a try – don’t be afraid because you can’t break anything! You may be surprised at how simple it is to begin building reports that not only help visualize data, but also act upon it. I know I was. Onward with my data journey as I have much more to learn!