Data Shaping and Honest Presentation

Five Things to Consider When Reviewing any Data, Survey, or Poll

A friend of mine was discussing a work project that included the very powerful software Tableau. “Business Intelligence and Analytics Software” is how they preview the product on their website.

He was discussing how data is malleable, and how the presentation of data can be manipulated to exploit the data (which is always neutral) towards a certain point of view or conclusion. This discussion reminded me of the book Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics which explains how statistics – data – polling can be used in ways that are less than straightforward.

While I couldn’t directly relate with the project parameters with which my friend was dealing, I decided to lay out my thoughts on marketing data/research. I have found that marketing information can be easily manipulated and therefore some guidelines are in order. These are neither exhaustive nor exclusive to market research and presentation… these principles can be applied to many situations.

Market Research Data and Presentation Tips

  1. Understand the context of the question.
    The manipulation of data in a presentation often begins with how the data was collected. The way questions in a customer survey are asked or worded makes a monumental difference in how the responses can be interpreted. Never believe a survey or poll response without being able to see the full question text.
  2. Understand the audience/data source.
    Just as important as what question was asked is to whom the question was asked. Or when not direct or primary research, from what data sources did the data come? This is obviously critical as no person (or author of data) is neutral.
  3. Consider the question behind the question.
    When reviewing marketing research (or any data) it is important to understand the reason behind the questions asked or the research done. Not just the full text of the question, but the question was asked. What is the overall research project attempting to accomplish? What story is intended to be told by the data?
  4. Believe your eyes/intuition.
    It is not uncommon to see a presentation and think that something isn’t quite right. Or to have a question because there is an apparent gap in or doubt about the information. Delve into the issue, often your eyes or intuition are correct and a pointed question or two can uncover pertinent information or context to the data presented.
  5. Look at the detail.
    Research and the resulting data are complex. Presentations help sort and organize the data and discuss the results. However, the summary of data/results by definition means that not all the data is included. Consider looking at the data source or complete data set to look for areas that weren’t highlighted by summary presentations…but still could be meaningful.
  6. We all bring perspective.
    It’s popular currently to say that people have biases that color how they view the world and everything in it. That is a more negative painting of what I would call personal perspective. Realize when reviewing any information that not only the author or presenter brings a personal perspective, but also the viewer has a perspective as well.

Considerations for Presenting

While this article focuses on data and presentation from the recipient’s view, these same tips can be used to help the presenter as the data are gathered, organized, and presented. The last tip is crucial. Too often it is not the perspective of the researcher/presenter that ruins a presentation of the data. Rather, it is attempting to meet the perspective of the recipient (whether consciously or unconsciously). In other words, you are presenting to an audience, the audience is paying you to do the presentation, therefore you shade, skew, manipulate the data or the results/presentation to fit the perspective of the audience. Similar to writing the answer on a test for the professor and to fit the professor’s bias, rather than writing the neutral truth or one’s own opinion. That’s a great way to sell tickets, but not an honest way to conduct or present research.

Have a question about market research? Contact us and we’ll see if we can give you a neutral answer.




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