Free Tools to Visualize Your Data

[Reblogged from the IU Scholarly Communication blog]

Data visualization has grown in popularity as datasets have become larger and tools have become more user-friendly. This area is eagerly being explored by researchers in a variety of disciplines. Although many people think of numbers when they consider types of data, data comes in many forms–including text! In fact, for many researchers, especially those in the humanities or social sciences, text is their primary data source.

This example of a network visualization could be created using a tool like Gephi or Sci2. Image: Clickstream Data Yields High-Resolution Maps of Science. Johan Bollen, Herbert Van de Sompel, Aric Hagberg, Luis Bettencourt, Ryan Chute, Marko A. Rodriguez, Lyudmila Balakireva.

Here is a brief list of freely available tools you can use to explore and visualize both numerical and textual data. This list is by no means comprehensive; to check out additional tools, try the visualization tool list at Bamboo DiRT.

  • D3 – A JavaScript data visualization library. While you would need to invest the time to learn basic JavaScript, this introductory tutorial breaks down steps to learn D3. You can also check out the array of impressive visualizations resulting from its use.
  • Gephi – If you only wanted to invest the time to learn one visualization tool, this open source software for visualizing networks and complex systems is a great choice. Take a look at one of the many available tutorials to get started.
  • ManyEyes – This tool allows users to easily upload datasets and create basic visualizations. To get a feel for the types of visualizations created, view the ManyEyes gallery.
  • Sci2 Tool – This tool, developed at the Indiana University Cyberinfrastructure for Network Science Center, is billed as “a modular toolset specifically designed for the study of science [that] supports the temporal, geospatial, topical, and network analysis and visualization of scholarly datasets.” Its strength lies in its ability to handle network data, similar to Gephi.
  • Tableau Public – This free, limited-functionality version of the popular software Tableau simplifies the act of creating charts and graphs.
  • Voyant – This is a browser-based platform for analysis and visualization of texts. It is a beginner-friendly tool with modest functionality: visualizations created within Voyant are limited to charts and graphs, though it would be easy to plug the data generated by the program into another platform with greater capacity for visualization, such as Gephi.
  • WordSeer – WordSeer is a textual analysis and visualization tool comparable to Voyant. The latest version, 3.0, has not yet been released publicly.

Lastly, I would be remiss if I failed to mention the important role that data management plays in data visualization. Poorly managed data may hinder your ability to create effective visualizations, so learn a few simple steps to manage your data more effectively. For more information, contact Stacy Konkiel, Science Data Management Librarian, at to schedule a consultation!

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