In today’s modern times, data analysis is as monumental as the introduction of the automobile was in the 1900s, more so even. With data analysis touching everything from marketing to science to fraud prediction, people from all walks of life are now required to possess a basic understanding of data analysis techniques.
Don’t let the idea of analysis overwhelm you. The concept is actually quite simple: useful information exists within a set of data; how can you best discover it?
There are five essential tips for data analysis success. These tips are beneficial for experienced analysts and novices alike, as they can be taken to increasingly complex levels. So, they will serve you well throughout your career.
Don’t Rush, Take Your Time:
Opposite to your initial inclination, never rush when you receive a new data set. Take your time reviewing, cleaning, and questioning your data before launching into analysis. After all, your results will only be as good as your data set, so it’s critical that you start with the best possible information. Ask yourself whether the data makes sense, whether anything is inconsistent or noisy, or whether anything is missing. Comb through the columns and organize the data so you can sort it and later visualize it easily. And, most importantly, remove outliers.
Let the Data Speak:
Once your data is clean and organized, take a moment to think about your data set. This is called “letting the data speak” and is an often overlooked but important step of data analysis. Consider trends within the data set as a whole and within subsets of the data. Can you logically group the data? Is there a phenomenon for which you can’t explain but nevertheless remains? Embrace what is there in your data analysis and never let your preconceived notions overshadow your data interpretation.
Analyze and Reanalyze Several Times:
During the course of your data analysis, you will need to analyze and reanalyze several times. Look at the data in as many different ways as possible. Sometimes, results and trends are challenging to spot in one analytical method or visualization but jump out at you in another. Try different plots, charts, exclusions, inclusions, subsets, calculations, etc. Yes, all of this analyzing takes time, but this is how you will get the best results and learn the most from your data set.
Color is at the Heart of Great Visualization:
Visualization is at the heart of great data analysis and data presentation. And color is at the heart of great visualization. For example, if you have various bars, columns, or lines within your data visualization, use color to differentiate them. This will help you during your analysis and it will aide your audience during presentation. It is far easier to spot a trend or anomaly among 15 different lines when they are all different colors than when they are all black (perhaps with different shapes at the data points).
Label your Data Well is a Key:
Beyond color, labeling your data well is a key element in analysis and visualization. Labels play a role from the beginning, when you are looking over your data set and sorting, all the way to the end, when you are presenting your data analysis results in plots and charts. Label all of your columns, calculations, trend lines, and axes. The benefit of labels is immediate and long-term, as coming back to your data and results will be easier to follow and understand in the future.
Follow these five essential tips for successful data analysis and you will be on your way to great discoveries. There is so much more to data analysis than numbers. It’s the technique that brings you useful results.