Telling Your Data Story Using Tableau Seminar

Instructor: Dr. Scott Jensen

This seminar was first presented at San Jose State University in the Fall 2019 semester.

Why Attend this Seminar?

Data scientists are responsible for discovering the stories buried in their data and effectively communicating that story to a variety of audiences, including executives, clients, investors, donors, citizens, and others. To tell the story hidden in your data, you need to be able to ask the right questions, determine the visualization appropriate to the answer, and generate a visualization that is compelling and self-explanatory. In this seminar you will be working hands-on with Tableau and a real-world dataset to first profile the dataset (learn about it), and then answer questions and generate visualizations that you can share with others to tell the stories contained in the dataset.

Seminar Objectives

After participating in the seminar and completing the post-seminar assessment, you will be able to:

  • Identifying which basic chart type may be appropriate for the message your data is communicating
  • Load data from a file and create charts in Tableau, including line, area, bar, 100% stacked bar, box plots, and maps
  • Use the shelves in Tableau to filter data, set display options, and create animations
  • Create calculated fields, including level of detail (LOD) expressions

Seminar Materials

If you want to complete the pre-seminar exercises or continue using Tableau after the seminar for class projects, Download Tableau Desktop by clicking on this link to the Tableau for Students website and then and then clicking on the "Get Tableau for Free" button on that screen.  The software is free for students and faculty and a 14-day trial for anyone else. 

Optional pre-seminar materials

Tableau makes some excellent materials available on their website for getting up-to-speed on Tableau. If you plan to continue using Tableau, you may also want to follow their blog which publishes helpful articles on Tableau. Below we have listed some introductory videos and reading - these are optional, but we think you will get more out of the seminar if you have a chance to watch and/or read some of these beforehand.

One of the key issues in visualizing data is deciding what you are trying to communicate.  Is the most important story a trend over time?  Then a line or area chart would be a good choice.  Do you need to compare counts (such as the number of students enrolled in each college), then a bar chart may work well.  For an excellent introduction to this topic, see this short paper on Tableau Visual Analysis Best Practices.  This guide is divided into 4 sections, and while all of them contain useful information, for the seminar we would suggest reading the section titled "Choose the Right Chart Type". It does a good job of matching chart types to the story you are trying to tell about your data.

To understand why visualizations are a powerful way to tell your data story, watch the first 6.5 minutes of this TED talk from 2006 by Hans Rosling.  He is discussing global health and the difference between the industrialized and developing world.  Although Hans has passed away, you cannot go to a talk on visualizations to this day where someone won't bring up this video.

For an introduction to Tableau prior to the seminar, watch these free training videos from Tableau.  The videos are grouped into sets on Tableau's website. Following is a list of those we recommend (in the order we recommend viewing them).  Watching them is optional, but if you have never encountered Tableau before, they are a great quick introduction. 

Video Set Video Title Time
Getting Started The Tableau Interface 4 minutes
Getting Started Getting Started Watch from 4 minutes to 21 minutes
Visual Analytics Getting Started with Visual Analytics 6 minutes

Looking for more?

If you finish watching the above 3 videos (for the second video, we specifically recommend minutes 4-21 for the topics covered in the seminar), you may also want to consider the following videos:

Video Set Video Title Time
Visual Analytics Ways to Filter 2 minutes
Visual Analytics Using the Filter Shelf 7 minutes
Calculations Calculation Syntax 4 minutes
Calculations Getting Started with Calculated Fields First 2 minutes

Materials used during the seminar

The data we will be using for this seminar is made available by the Social Security Administration (SSA). It contains the first names of social security card applicants based on their date of birth.  We will be using data the SSA provides broken down by state, and that data covers  security card applicants born between 2010 and 2018 (it gets updated each year in the late spring/early summer).  The data is downloaded as a zip file containing a file for each state, with separate lines for the number of women and men who have each name (for those names where there are both men and women - such as Elizabeth?), for each year that name occurred in that state.  If there were fewer than 5 individuals in a state, in a given year, with a specific name, that name is omitted from the data.

For the seminar we have reformatted the data to include all of the states in a single file.  If you want to work with the data on your own computer, download the SSA data as a zipped CSV file named  If you are on a Mac, the zip file should unzip for you automatically and you will have a CSV file.  On a PC you will need to unzip it.  Alternately, double-click on the zip file and then drag the CSV file onto your computer's desktop or into another folder. The original raw data as well as national data going back to 1880 can be downloaded from the SSA website.

During the seminar we will cover some famous visualizations (including Hans Rosling's TED Talk discussed above).  For more details on these and a couple other visualizations from history, read the Tableau whitepaper, The 5 Most Influential Data Visualizations of All Time.

During the seminar, one of the more advanced calculation types we will use is a Fixed Level of Detail (LOD) expression.  Additional information on LOD expressions can be found in the Tableau paper titled Understanding Level of Detail Expressions.

Faculty Materials & Community Colleges

  • If you are a faculty member at SJSU or any university or community college, and you would like to host a seminar at your school or use the materials in your course, see the Teaching Materials page to request the additional materials available.
  • If you are a Dean or faculty member at a a Bay Area community college, we would like to hear from you! We are working with community college faculty in the Bay Area and provide stipends to attend the seminar and assist in presenting it at your school.
  • Are you a Bay Area Community College student? Ask your professors if they could incorporate the seminar into your current class or host a student event.