Date of Award

Fall 2005

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science in Professional and Technical Communication - (M.S.)

Department

Humanities

First Advisor

Robert Edward Lynch

Second Advisor

Carol Siri Johnson

Third Advisor

Norbert Elliot

Abstract

This research explores a method of graphical display called a sparkline. Sparklines are a valid method to convey statistical information, supported by an easy familiarity among users and a desire, expressed by information design expert Edward Tufte, for greater density in data display. The subject is examined in light of the broader concept of the integration of pictures and text, tracing this tradition back to medieval illuminated texts, through history to Galileo, and to such diverse modem techniques as emoticons. The historical perspective is expanded upon through an examination of perception theory and implications for data graphics. Ethical issues of graphic display are discussed. A test of sparklines compared with numeric displays for comprehension - possibly the first of its kind - was conducted as part of this project, and the results are reported here. While not without drawbacks, which are discussed, sparklines are demonstrated to be appropriate for certain uses, with a key caveat that they should be accompanied by a means of "drilling down" to the actual data. Sparklines fit into a long tradition of other graphic display methods.

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