The art of thinking and presenting in pictures

How to better present information is a continuing development process for researchers, whether quantitative or qualitative.  Each discipline has their own historical stock graphics – pie charts and bar charts for quantitative data and quote bubbles and word clouds for qualitative.  Yet data visualisation is really coming into its own and helping us all to think about and develop more imaginative ways of presenting core data and information.

Visual imagery is also a core component of brainstorming and idea generation – who hasn’t used a mind map to help visually explore ideas and connections.  Here at The Focus Group we are continuing to explore how we can use visuals more imaginatively in both our qualitative analysis and client debriefs.

As qualitative researchers we are not primed to think in numbers, our data is the conversations, discussions and stories that we hear.  Ploughing through the transcripts and notes can feel like drowning sometimes but finding simple visuals to help organise our thoughts can be a fundamental part of our process and we use all sorts of scribbles and diagrams to make sense of our data, including mind maps.  Of course there are many software programmes that can help to sort qualitative data but we believe there is still something very unique about qualitative research that requires the human skills of ordering, theming, reviewing and brainstorming.

Here are a few things we’re using and thinking about –

Tools to help our analysis

bowtie and whittling edgeAt a recent seminar by Kevin Duncan, author of The Diagrams Book (a guide to helping solve problems visually), he illustrated numerous diagrams that help to explore our findings and help to identify the key themes and recommendations.  These diagrams can be surprisingly simple – The Whittling wedge and bow tie in particular are relevant to how we try to make sense of our results and present our conclusions. A simple clear visual can help to cut through the padding of our thoughts and pull out the key ideas coming through.


(Reference: The Diagrams Book – 50 ways to solve any problem visually. Kevin Duncan.

Real time illustration

Beci wardAt a recent Association of Qualitative Research (AQR) conference, we met a very talented illustrator who was tasked with doing real-time illustrations of the seminars and conference talks.  Some of her illustrations are shown here.  This is a great way to present key initial thoughts back to clients and to help capture the keywords and ideas for further exploration.  It’s like catching the ‘gut feeling’ that we get after our groups and interviews.  Usually we can be found scribbling notes and ideas on the train home after a group, but having someone independently and visually helping with this process is clever, imaginative and quirky.

(Reference: Beci Ward Illustrations:


Visual debriefs/presentations/reports

infographicsAt the end of our analysis we have to present logical, objective and actionable information back to our clients. We need the key recommendations and themes to stand out and be clearly understood – quickly and effectively. This is the big visual challenge – how to do this in a visually effective way.  The rise of infographics has been tremendous in providing easy graphical representation of key facts and figures in a way that is quick, sharp and imaginative.


However with the depth of qualitative information that we often glean from projects, the skill and challenge is to ensure that where graphics are used they do not outshine the content.  The challenge of visual thinking, analysing and presenting is continuing…