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Show Me the Numbers: Designing Tables and Graphs to Enlighten [Hardcover]

by Stephen Few
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)

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Show Me the Numbers: Designing Tables and Graphs to Enlighten Show Me the Numbers: Designing Tables and Graphs to Enlighten 4.6 out of 5 stars (19)
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Book Description

September 1, 2004 0970601999 978-0970601995 aFirst Edition First Printing
Tables and graphs can more adequately communicate important business information when they reflect the good design practices discussed in this practical guide to effective table and graph design. Information is provided on the fundamental concepts of table and graph design, the numbers and knowledge most suitable for display in a graphic form, the best tabular means to communicate certain ideas, and the component-level aspects of design. Analysts, technicians, and managers will appreciate the solid theory behind this outline for ensuring that tables and graphs present quantitative business information in a truthful, attractive format that facilitates better decision making.

Editorial Reviews


"A must read...for anyone working in the field of business intelligence." -- David Wells, Director of Education, The Data Warehousing Institute (TDWI)

"A real gem…clear, concise, and comprehensive." -- Dr. Richard Mayer, Professor of Psychology, University of California, Santa Barbara

"More accessible than Cleveland's books and...more practical advice than Tufte's. I highly recommend it." -- Dr. Pat Hanrahan, Professor of Computer Science, Stanford University

From the Publisher

Students attend business school to hone their decision-making skills. They are taught dozens of statistical tools and analytical methods, but their education almost always contains a gaping hole: they rarely learn the importance of careful and effective presentation of data. Once they graduate and enter the business world, their decisions and their firms can suffer as a result.

"Show Me the Numbers" is rare and special. It is a practical and commonsense guide that you can use in your business today and every day. Stephen Few grounds his principles in the work of Edward R. Tufte and others, extends them to comprehensively address the needs of business, and then applies them to hundreds of examples drawn from his own experience. No matter where you are in your career, more skilled presentation of information will help you and your business prosper, and this book will help you do just that. Read it and put it to work – your shareholders and colleagues will thank you for it.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Analytics Press; aFirst Edition First Printing edition (September 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0970601999
  • ISBN-13: 978-0970601995
  • Product Dimensions: 11.3 x 8.8 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #202,798 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Stephen Few is on a mission to help organizations squeeze real value from the mounds of data that surround and threaten to bury them. Through his consultancy Perceptual Edge, Stephen teaches simple, clear, and practical data visualization techniques for analyzing and presenting quantitative information. He teaches, speaks, and consults internationally with organizations of all types and writes the quarterly Visual Business Intelligence Newsletter. He is also the author of three popular books: Show Me the Numbers: Designing Tables and Graphs to Enlighten, Second Edition, Information Dashboard Design: Displaying data for at-a-glance monitoring, Second Edition, and Now You See It: Simple Visualization Techniques for Quantitative Analysis. You can learn more about his work at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
132 of 141 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The best there is - November 16, 2004
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
- after Tufte. Tufte writes about brilliant, eloquent graphic design. Few writes about competent, legible business presentation. Tufte writes about good art, Few writes about servicable craft. If you've ever seen data presented in Excel, Word, or (god forbid) PowerPoint, you know how much we need competent craft.

The book is gently paced. It's for people who need to present numbers, but may not be wholly comfortable with numbers. It takes the reader by the hand, and walks through a series of very basic steps in reasoning about how a chart communicates, or fails to.

The book is very much oriented towards the chart and graph types that Excel can produce. Like it or not, that makes sense. Excel is what most readers have most acess to, and is what causes some of the ugliest problems. This book addresses those problems.

Few illustrates his points with a number of examples, both good and bad ones. He presents problems to solve, and presents answers to many of them. It's a textbook, and a good one. Its main message is, "Less is better."

This is for anyone who presents information, and for anyone who creates presentation software. I recommend this one.

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87 of 94 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The summaries make it worthwhile August 16, 2006
I bought and read the books of Tufte and Cleveland (The elements of graphing data). Tufte is pushing things too far, there are certain expectation people have about what they want to see in a graph, but his analysis of the "lie factor" is great and it's a beautiful book. Clevelands book is becoming outdated; the use of colours is really helpful and other than two glued-in pages he does not mention it at all. The analysis is cristal clear and it's full of good and bad examples. Someone ought to rework it, it's invaluable to me.

The recommendation that Few makes in his book are worth buying it and you can read this book in a day, just skip the long explanations. Its indeed long and a somewhat simple, leaving the impression that the content is rather thin, but if anyone presenting data would stick to these simple rules, presentations would make a major step forward in clarity.

My conclusion:

- if you are a scientist, go for Cleveland.

- If have been a scientist and became a "manager" buy Few.

- If you are active in politics or other domains that communicate to the large public, Tufte will tell you how to tell the truth :-)

One more thing: pie charts are there to stay, no matter how hard we fight them and how many authors hate them and break them down with good arguments. One cannot turn back the clock, there is something like fashion in the way we present data.
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69 of 75 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Use Excel (or PowerPoint)? Read this book January 20, 2005
As a consultant I need to gather and analyze data and transform it into information and findings. This book leads you through the transformation of data - especially if you use Excel or PowerPoint - by showing how to select the best table and chart formats to convey the information aggregated from data.

The thrust of the book is communicating. The author lays a solid foundation early in the book by covering qualtitative relationships, summarization and various data types. He then builds upon the foundation with succinct discussions and advice on selecting tablular formats and the correct charts to convey the information.

While Excel is the principal tool used to illustrate the concepts and techniques in the book, I have applied the author's advice to Visio and PowerPoint, as well as a few more obscure charting and graphics programs.

I like the clarity with which the information is presented, and the practical examples given throughout the book. More importantly, this book isn't a tome that is aimed at graphic designers, making it an ideal resource for technical and business professionals who do not fully grasp the nuances of graphic presentation.

If you present data and information - using any application - I strongly recommend this book because it will make your presentations meaningful and easy-to-understand, and will show you how to avoid a plethora of common mistakes like using the wrong chart or impossible to understand tables.
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123 of 144 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not Very Practical January 26, 2006
By Japhy
I work in finance and create many charts and graphs. I figured a book like this would help me to design them better. I was really looking for a practical guide rather than a long, rambling academic textbook, but that's how this book reads.

It seems aimed at college underclassmen rather than business professionals. Few spends page after page discussing the most basic mathematical concepts and things that you simply don't need to know in order to create a graph. For example, there is an entire chapter on basic statistics such as how to calculate a mean, median and mode. There is also a lengthy discussion of how the human eye works.

As I went through the book I found myself thinking: "Wow, Few has so little to say about tables and graphs that he needs all of this filler material to make this seem like a real book!"

There are some valuable chapters at the end of the book, but it takes a lot of patience to get there.

The page format is also really annoying and too textbook-like. It is a really wide book with citations (90% of which seemed to be from Tufte) in the wide margins.

I give this review one star for the 15 or so pages worth of good advice it contains. Unfortunately that wasn't enough content to warrant an entire textbook If you're a business professional looking for something you can use, this book is VASTLY overpriced and oversized.

My final comment is on the cover: An eye. A Brain. A sun. Bars coming out of each. It says very little to me, and that seemed to be the theme of the book. I wish I'd have seen a real review on this book before I shelled out $30.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars To Start Data Visualization Just Right!
If you wish to know the foundation of Data Visualization best practices through the perspective of a pro: this is definitely it! Read more
Published 16 months ago by Thiago Pereira Bueno
5.0 out of 5 stars Love this book
Love all of Stephen's work but this one in particular. Must get the updated one! The book covers a topic that I find generally poorly addressed by most "numbers people".
Published 17 months ago by DataWhiz
4.0 out of 5 stars Instantly Applicable to any Analyst in a Business Setting
Based on the Personal MBA I picked up this book with the expectation that I might learn a few tricks about making graphs and tables for reports I produce. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Will J Johnson
5.0 out of 5 stars Useful book
It is the textbook required for data analysis. The book is well organized and easy to understand, and the figures are very useful. Read more
Published 24 months ago by christinaji56
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome, best down to earth education you can receive on displaying...
I've read lots of book on how to display data in a way there's as effective and intuitive as possible. Read more
Published on January 21, 2012 by M. Barnett
5.0 out of 5 stars A must have for financial controllers
Show me the numbers is everything the cover promises - and more. Rather than the old fashioned systems approach or - worse still - the (software) engineer running wild, this book... Read more
Published on July 12, 2011 by AndreJuly1966
5.0 out of 5 stars Require (and enjoyable) Reading
Loved this book. You learn from it and have several "aha" moments and you'll keep going back to it for reference.
Published on March 9, 2011 by ActiveScott
4.0 out of 5 stars Love this book
I am thoroughly enjoying reading this book and I highly recommend it to anyone who has occasion to present quantitative information. Read more
Published on August 3, 2010 by A. Candreva
1.0 out of 5 stars Waste of money compared to Tufte's books
If I could ask for my money back, I would. Don't be fooled by the substantial number of positive reviews. The book is very basic and contains little substantial information. Read more
Published on April 2, 2010 by Nut
5.0 out of 5 stars show me the numbers
Great book for someone starting out on this most up-to-date subject. Great for small businesses also.
Published on October 17, 2009 by Colin Jennings
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