Some wise man once said that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’. Very true, as data visualization does make it easier to absorb large amounts of information quickly. However, words play a crucial role too. How often do you encounter a data visualization without any text on it?

This article talks about 5 text elements and how they can be used to enhance the meaning of any data visualization. The text elements that we are going to discuss are:

  1. Chart caption
  2. Date labels
  3. Data legends
  4. Tooltips
  5. Labeled icons

Use chart caption to summarize without being verbose

Chart captions are like an introduction to the contents of your chart. They should effectively summarize the key ideas in your chart well. However, verbosity is a strict no-no when it comes to writing effective chart captions. Avoid unnecessary articles and adjectives. Keep it short, concise and crisp. And do not forget to mention the units of measurement in your caption or sub-caption.

avoid adjectives in chart caption

While writing chart captions, it is best to avoid unnecessary adjectives. Let the user figure out if the revenue is ‘amazing’ or not.

avoid adjectives in chart caption

Related read:  In this article, we share 5 tips for writing great chart captions.

If data labels are too long, slant them to aid readability

Data Labels describe the value associated with the specific point on the chart axes. We often do not pay too much attention to our data labels but if properly used they can help in taking our story forward.

Rotated labels are difficult to read

Rotated labels are difficult to read.

slanted labels are easier to read than rotated labels

If your data labels are too long, consider slanting them. 

A slanted label is easier to read than broken labels or rotated ones.

Related read: In this article, we share 5 Quick Fixes to Ugly X-axis Labels.

Order of data legends should match order of data plot

Legends are keys to understanding the chart. It contains a list of the variables appearing in the chart and an example of how they look. Legends should ideally be placed outside the chart plot area so that they do not clutter the space.

Order of Legend should match order of data plot

Legends should be arranged as per the order of appearance of the data plot (Eg: if ‘Search’ data is plotted first, the corresponding legend comes first).

It eases the process of interpretation for the user.

Interactive legend

 Mention the functionality of the interactive legend clearly in the sub-caption.

In case you use interactive legends (eg: users can click on the icon for a data series to hide it and focus on the other series), make sure you mention this clearly in the sub-caption. Your user may overlook this feature if you do not specify it. [See our Interactive Legends in action.]

Use tooltip to pack in additional information

Sometimes you may need to pack in more information for a specific data plot. Adding all the information in your chart labels will make your chart look cluttered.

Without tooltip

Instead you can use the tooltips.


They will reveal the additional information only on hover over the specific data plot and will keep your chart clutter-free.

Use labeled icons for navigation

This text element comes into play primarily when an information dashboard is used to display your data and the user is required to navigate between multiple pages. Designers prefer to use icons for navigation. It serves multiple purposes―creates an element of visual interest, transcends language barriers and is suggestive of the functionality or contents of the specific page.

Icons for navigation

However, it is best to use labeled icons for navigation ―a small icon followed by a 1-2 word description. This ensures that your new users are not left guessing the meaning of those icons/symbols.

[Looking for inspiration for your information dashboard? Check out our demos.]

As Enrico Bertini, Assistant Professor at NYU, point out in one of his article ‘Text makes visualization alive. It gives meaning to what you see.’  By using these 5 text elements more effectively, you can make your data visualization more meaningful and make it easier for the user to derive insights from them.

 Do you think texts are important in a data visualization? How do you use them to enhance your data viz? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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2 responses on “How to Effectively use Text in a Data Visualization?

  1. Try this simple trick:

    Switch the x&y axis when you need to visualize text data so that the text appears on the left axis. Here is a before and after of the same chart.

    You’ll see it’s instantly more readable because we don’t have to try to fit large labels under each bar in the chart. Apologies for the random data by the way.

    Hope this helps too.


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