Sunday, November 9, 2014

Lies, Damn Lies, and Charts?

Over at Nautilus, Becca Cudmore is puzzled by how the same information can be displayed on charts with two entirely different attitudes, or spin. According to Ruth Rosenholtz, a scientist over at MIT, the way you can tell if a chart is trying to deceive you is by how long it takes you to figure out what that visual is trying to say. "A bad chart requires more cognitive processes and more reasoning about what you’ve seen."

Since you are often required to use visuals, including graphs and charts, let's take a look at a couple of Nautilus's examples of what you should NOT do.

Puzzling Perspective - The purple chart is about "labor." It is displaying the same information, so why do these charts look so different?

The pie chart on the right puts labor up front and closer to you, so it takes up more space. The chart at left puts the labor information farther away from you, so it takes less space (think vanishing point perspective).

In other words, making your numbers look bigger or smaller depends on your perspective.

Swindling Shapes - In this graph, like the former pie chart, it is displaying the exact same information, and the only relevant property of the bar is height. However when the shape is changed to a 3-D cone it makes the information harder to interpret.

The red information at the top of the chart on the left is administrative costs and the blue tip of the cone on the right is also administrative costs - do those two bits of visual information look the same to you?

"In both charts, administrative costs take almost a third of each dollar. While this matches reasonably with the left chart, the right chart seems to shrink administrative costs to something much less than a third. 'Anytime you ask anyone to judge just height and ignore the other measurements,' says Rosenholtz, 'it’s going to take extra cognitive load to disregard these other cues.'” In other words, the chart takes more time to figure out--a good sign you are being deceived.

Charts are a great way to take in a lot of information in an instant, but like any other text, they can be rhetorically dishonest. So the next time you read a graph, ask yourself if the material is being displayed honestly? Have you ever created a chart that may have presented your material in a biased way?

Sunday, November 2, 2014

What's an In-Text Citation?

You would think it would be crazy hard for new academic writers to write a college-level academic paper, but NO! What's really hard for new academic writers is to format that paper correctly, especially when it comes to IN-TEXT CITATIONS (YES! that is ALL CAPS and BOLD). Why? I don't know...it seems pretty straightforward to me, but then I've been writing and grading academic papers for a long time...

So here's the basics: If you borrow someone's idea, you have to give him or her credit--it's their idea. They did a lot of work to come up with something original, so give credit where credit is due. A person's ideas can be expressed verbally or in writing. A writer can use those ideas by paraphrasing, summarizing or quoting directly. Any way you borrow from someone, you must cite those ideas with an in-text citation within your text (we're not talking about Works Cited pages for now).

So, wanna practice? Do it anyway. Here's a link to MLA In-text and Works Cited Quiz (20 questions).

So how did you do? What did you learn? Do you disagree with any of the answers?