Data Visualization

This is the fourth part in an ongoing series on how and why you should be using R, especially if you are a social science researcher or education researcher, like me. If you missed the earlier ones, you can check out part 1 (Intro to R), part 2 (R Basics), and part 3 (Data Cleaning and Manipulation). This post will go into some more specifics relating to data visualization.

There are many ways to visualize your data using R. By far the most popular (and I think robust and flexible) is using the ggplot2 package. This post will talk a bit about why and how to visualize your data and some tips and basics to using R’s ggplot2 package to help you achieve your visualization goals.

Why visualize?

There are lots of reasons why you might want to visualize your data (or rather, why you should visualize your data). It can be a useful tool at various stages of research, and depending on where you are in your analysis process, different aspects of visualization might be more or less important to focus on. The way I see it, there are three main purposes for data visualization: examining your data, showing your data/findings, and sharing your data/findings.

What question are you trying to answer with your data? How can a visualization help you answer that? Do you have a really complex data set that is too hard to easily capture with a few numbers? Are you interested in variation and distribution rather than just means and medians? Are you exploring different relationships between variables and want to see how they interact?

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Beethoven visualization

I came upon this amazing visualization of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony a little while ago. I found it when searching for this piece1 (one of my favorite classical music pieces) and realized it was also a super cool visualization.

Each color corresponds to one type of instrument, from the orange violins to the greenish flutes, the yellow trumpets, and the blue bassoons. I really like how it shows the complexity of the music and also allows you to see patterns in the piece as they develop over time and repeat.

  1. I was trying to remember if this was the music that was in Mr. Holland’s Opus when he was talking about Beethoven not being born deaf. It was

Visualizing without seeing

Last January was the annual Awesome Games Done Quick marathon, where speed runners1 show off and explain their skills while raising money for cancer research. One of the final events of the marathon was a blindfolded speed run of the beginning of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (OoT) (basically, the first three dungeons). Yes, you read that correctly: a speed runner Runnerguy2489 was blindfolded and then played OoT.
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