Visualizing Survey Results: Assessing Knowledge Before and After a Program

May 9th, 2017 / Data Visualization / , , , , , ,

A couple weeks ago I spoke to Harvard University graduate students about visualizing survey results. This not at all to very survey scale is quite common in my research circles so I’m sharing our ideas with all of you, too.


Here are some of the survey questions that were asked before and after program participation. Don’t worry, the online survey was formatted much more beautifully than this screenshot from the Word version of the survey!
Ann K. Emery's tips on visualizing knowledge gains after a program: Here are some of the questions from the survey.


Here’s the first style I tried. I’m not very creative when it comes to making up fake numbers so ignore the exact percentages (which are conveniently identical for all the after results).

  • I display patterns over time from left to right across the page. Before results go on the left and after results go on the right, so they get vertical columns (not horizontal rows).
  • I convert responses into percentages when there are more than 100 responses and I use raw numbers when there are fewer than 100 responses. In my fictional dataset, there are 200 survey responses, so everything is displayed as percentages.
  • The very knowledgeable to not at all knowledgeable scale is ordinal so I selected one hue (blue, or green, or orange) and used darker and lighter versions of each hue to correspond to the amount of knowledge.
  • I added a title and introductory sentence to the handout and titles and subtitles to each graph. I’m a visual person and prefer reading graphs over paragraphs but some viewers will prefer reading paragraphs over graphs.

Ann K. Emery's tips for visualizing survey results: Here's the first "after" version, a stacked bar chart showing the "pre" answers and another stacked bar chart for the "post" answers.
Stacked bar charts are one of the most common ways to display survey results because surveys often include scales like this one. But we have to be careful because one page with two points in time, three survey questions, and five options per survey question can get cluttered, fast! In this version of the handout, I used saturation to guide the viewer’s eyes towards the very knowledgeable sections. In your project, you may choose to draw attention to the not at all knowledgeable category. Or, you may draw attention to both the very knowledgeable and moderately knowledgeable categories lumped together. There are several correct ways to guide eyes with saturation. Your job is to anticipate what your viewers will find most useful.
Ann K. Emery's tips for visualizing survey results: Here's the second "after" version, a stacked bar chart showing the "pre" answers and another stacked bar chart for the "post" answers. In this version, I used saturation to draw attention to just the "very knowledgeable" responses.
Want to explore these graphs in more detail? Purchase the Excel spreadsheet and the Word document used to create these handouts.

Purchase the templates

Related Courses

Data visualization best practices, practical how-tos, tutorials in multiple software platforms, and guest experts. Designed with busy number-crunchers in mind.

Enroll Now


#f-post-el-35{display:none !important}

#f-post-el-35{display:none !important}
#f-post-el-35{display:none !important}

Enroll Now