Exploratory Visualization of Data and Text
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Exploratory Visualization of Data and Text

Presented on April 26 2018 at RENCI in Chapel Hill for TriPython

A graphic is never an end in itself; it is a moment in the process of decision making.

-- Jacques Bertin

About me

Francois Dion

Chief Data Scientist

Dion Research LLC

fdion @ dionresearch.com



A presentation in 5 notebooks, tackling missing data (completeness), invalid data (validity), ranking, mixed data types, knowing when to trust a visualization and knowing when to drill down further, doing comparisons, finding relationships, looking at hidden traps like imputations, looking at distributions, comparing words and distance metrics for exploratory visualization, and finally comparing whole texts. If you've not attended the talk, some insight will be missing, but at least the notebooks provide many suggestions of tools and approaches.

wordcloud with state mask

Notebook 1

Notebook 1 shows typical average quality data sources and how missing data in itself is not an absolute metric, if the data is representing missing data in a non standard way... Else you could get a false sense of security about your data. Visualizations covered: missing data matrix (missingno), stem-and-leaf plot for mixed data types (stem_graphic.alpha), word clouds vs word frequency plots and word sunbursts.

seeing invalid data with stemgraphic alpha

Notebook 2

Notebook 2 brings up the issue of wrong data types, often discovered by trying to visualize the data (such as a seaborn boxplot). It also tackles the question of distribution, of comparisons and of combining multiple views of the data into one visualization to gain better understanding of it.

stemgraphic density plot and rug combined

Notebook 3

Notebook 3 tackles a specific data type: time series and how interactive visualizations can help drill down and compare this type of data, and how it is easy to create derived representations using these visualizations (like spread). Going back to data types, indexes are extremely important for time series. They should also have a proper frequency set, which potentially introduces more missing values (we are back at square one, or I should say Notebook 1). We also answer the question of composition. Time series composition can be infered to a certain degree. For other type of data, ternary plots, stacked bar charts or area charts etc, are more appropriate, but data probably needs to be massaged to add to 100%.

statsmodels time series decomposition

Notebook 4

Notebook 4 sees more data issues, such as byte chars instead of strings. We also compare the composition of population using percentages and line and bar charts, again using a plot with hover information, zoom and feature selection. We also investigate the relationships between these features using pair plots and correlation heatmaps.

seaborn pairplot

Notebook 5

Notebook 5 addresses the question of how to do visual comparisons of words, and how to compare multiple documents

stem-and-leaf text heatmap grid


Basic building blocks

Statistical (for decomposition)


And pandas does offer the .plot() method on dataframes, along with parallel coordinates, RadViz and a few other visualizations.


The books I brought to the presentation:

  • J. Pebble, The Construction of Graphical Charts (1910)
  • W. Brinton, Graphic Presentation (1939)
  • R. Harris, Information Graphics: A Comprehensive Illustrated Reference (1999)
  • T. Munzner, Visualization Analysis and Design (2014), AK Peters

Check out my ex-libris list on LinkedIn


There are many more fundamental questions that can be answered by visualizations (things like risk, outliers, trends and many many more), and several area of visualizations that were not even mentioned (maps and graphs just to name two) due to the limited amount of time for the presentation. That doesn't mean they shouldn't be part of your daily visual explorations of data.