Tag Archive | communication

How to create a low-tech data visualization using 2 newspapers…

The staff over at PageOneX have created a low-tech way to create a bar chart comparing the amount of news to the amount of advertisement space for a print edition newspaper. The ratio they found (and show) for The New York Times on June 20th, 2013 is approximately 2:1! Check it out:


How to do this?

  1. Buy two copies of the same edition of one newspaper. You need two copies to be able to display both sides of every page. We used the exterior side of the papers from one copy, and the interior from the other copy.
  2. To be cautious, we  marked (draw a thin line) in the side of the paper that we were not going to use, to avoid having a piece of paper and not do not know which side is the one to use.
  3. Cut and separate Ads and News.
  4. Once you have the two piles with Ads and News, you have to make the bar charts. Keep’em straight and make them have the same width. To make the puzzle easier we put all the full (uncut) size pages together at the bottom of the  bars.

(Note: I did not write the above instructions, they are taken directly from the PageOneX blog – very clear and helpful!)

I think this is a great example of how communication and data visualization does not need to be complicated or high-tech to grab people’s attention or to be effective. This is a project that almost anyone could do, and gives us a great visual which has taken a lot of information and turned it into a form that can be read and understood in a quick glance.

PageOneX is an interesting new project which makes it easy to “track, code, and visualize major news stories based on the proportion of newspaper front pages that they take up.” From their about page, some context is given on how they came up with the concept:

PageOneX is an open source software tool designed to aid the coding, analysis, and visualization of front page newspaper coverage of major stories and media events. Newsrooms spend massive time and effort deciding what stories make it to the front page. Communication scholars have long used column-inches of print newspaper coverage as an important indicator of mass media attention. In the past, this approach involved obtaining copies of newspapers, measurement by hand (with a physical ruler), and manual input of measurements into a spreadsheet or database, followed by calculation and analysis. Some of these steps can now be automated, while others can be simplified; some can be easily shared by distributed teams of investigators working with a common dataset hosted online.” (Read more herePageOneX – About)

Hat tip to Chris Blattman (Assistant Professor of Political Science & International and Public Affairs at Columbia University) for re-posting this on his blog, which is also worth reading.

– Sarah Topps 2013


22 Rules of Storytelling by Pixar

Yup… you read that right – even Pixar uses formulas for success!

As health promoters, so much of what we do involves storytelling. We can learn from places such as Pixar, because let’s face it… their stories are sticky. Almost anyone raised in North America can tell you who this guy is:


This list was originally tweeted by Emma Coats, a former story artist at Pixar who is now out in the world doing her own thing. I stumbled across this while reading Chris Blattman’s blog: ChrisBlattman.com – he is an associate professor at Columbia University in the field of political science and international development. He updates his blog frequently and his posts vary enough that there is usually something for everyone, whether they are a policy geek or not. For now, back to Pixar’s rules of storytelling. I’ve listed my four favourites below. (Why four? Why twenty-two? Why not?)

#4, Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

#9. When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

#15. If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

#19. Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

You can find the rest of the list over at aerogrammestudio.com

– Sarah Topps


Thinking about communicating in an age of exponential information

Suzanne Vander Wekken

February 6, 2013

Do you ever find yourself thinking “this is just too much information”?  Not in that it is information you find inappropriate or offensive, but that literally the volume of information is too much to process.  Then you, my friend,  are experiencing a phenomenon known as “infowhelm”.

Infowhelm is the experience of feeling overwhelmed with too much information.  Infowhelm is both real, and increasingly prevalent.  I’ve encountered it, and I’m sure many of you have had as well. Between the internet, hand-held mobile devices and screens around every corner, we are being exposed to hundreds of messages every day.  As was communicated in a video we watched the first day of class entitled “Did You Know, information channels are multiplying and information exponentiating all the time.   I find this concept both fascinating and terrifying, and something worth thinking about more in context of this class on health communication.

We hear all the time that in order to be relevant and reach modern audiences we must consider how to communicate through social media platforms.  Social media platforms have even bred their own lexicon with words such as “tweeting” “blogging” “facebooking” “blogosphere”.   Words like “wall”, “feed”, “tab”, “status”, “menu”, “post”, “tweet”, and “share” bring to mind something entirely different now than they would have 20 years ago.  Times have changed. (Check out this video that summarizes the rapid change in marketing).

On the topic of changing times, I recall how my grade school math teachers used to say to me “you need to learn this stuff because you won’t be able to carry a calculator around with you everywhere!!”  Turns out their predictions were off.  We do all carry calculators around with us in our mobile devices. Not only do we have calculators, but the majority of us actually have a small computer with connection to the World Wide Web that can answer our questions at any moment.

Can’t add?  There’s a calculator app for that.

Can’t spell?  Let Microsoft’s spell check do the work for you.

Can’t read? There will be a Podcast or Youtube or Tedx I can listen to

Can’t write?  Improved voice recognition and transcription software means you won’t have to. My phone even has a “Google button” that I can press and speak to Google about my question.

Interestingly and ironically, as technology and media information expands, it seems that people can actually feasibly get by with fewer traditional literacy skills. In one of our second week’s reading, Kickbush (2001) points out that we are returning to our historical ways of preferring to communicate through oral and visual means.   Suitably this means that the conventional literacy covered by the “3 R’s” are no longer sufficient and comprehensive for understanding information today (although arguably still very important).   To be “literate” in our present society, a person needs to be capable of a broader skill set including quantitative, scientific, technological, cultural, media and computer literacy (p.292).

In line with this thinking I found group online called the 2ist Century Fluency Project (2013).  Their vision is to move our focus beyond traditional literacy skills to 21st century skills that reflect the current times. They have developed a model of five main fluencies which operate in context of what they call a “global digital citizen”.  The fluencies include:

Fluencies pic for blog post1)    Information Fluency

2)    Solution Fluency

3)    Creativity Fluency

4)    Media Fluency

5)    Collaboration Fluency

For more information and some short videos on these fluencies click here.


So what is your experience with Infowhelm? 

Have you encountered it? Do you think you might in the future?   What about the people and populations you currently work with or plan on working with?  Why might it be important to consider infowhelm in communicating with the public relating to health?

Please share your experiences, stories and thoughts … or not, if you are feeling overwhelmed by all this information ;).


The 21ST Century Fluency Project. (2013). Retrieved Feb 5, 2013 from, http://fluency21.com/.
Kickbush, I. (2001).  Health literacy: addressing the health and education divide. Health Promo Intern.  16(3).  P.189-97.

Simply Put – A CDC guide for creating easy to understand materials

I was perusing the CDC website today and stumbled across this really helpful resource: Simply Put – A guide for creating easy to understand materials

Since low health literacy and numeracy is such a big issue, both in Canada and in other parts of the world, I think it’s really important to think about some of the issues that this guide brings up when putting together resources. Some of the key topics included:

1. Make Your Message Clear 
2. Text Appearance Matters 
3. Visuals Help Tell Your Story >> including a link to the CDC public health image database


4. Layout and Design
5. Consider Culture
6. Translations Take Your Message Further 
7. Testing for Readability >> including formulas for calculating the readability of a document!

Also, at the back of the manual there is a Checklist for Easy-to-Understand Print Materials and lists of other resources to expand your knowledge even further.

– Sarah Topps 2013

How to Add Some Pizzazz to Your Blog Posts

This blog post will show you how to use some of WordPress.com’s built-in features to make your blog post really POP!

Bold and Italic work the same way as in Microsoft Word – simply click the or I buttons (or use ctrl+b/ctrl+i)

> Adding colour is also the same as in Word, simply highlight the text, and choose your colour from the drop-down menu
(Just be careful which colours you use – some are very hard to read, such as yellow, white, or neon green!

text colour button

> To add a hyperlink, you simply select the text that you wish to link, and select the link buttonthe-link-button

> To add images or other file types from your computer, click the “Add Media” button at the top left corner, above B and I


(Allowed file types: jpg, jpeg, png, gif, pdf, doc, ppt, odt, pptx, docx, pps, ppsx, xls, xlsx. Max size: 1 GB )

> You can also add a YouTube video or other HTML embedded features by clicking “Embed” underneath any YouTube video and copy+pasting the provided link directly into your blog post like so:

embedding youtube image

The video will then appear in your post looking like this:

> Add a category (How-To…) and tags (health, communication, blog, Youtube, SFU) on the lower right hand side of the page

> Finally remember to always sign your blog posts (Take credit where credit is due!)

– Sarah Topps 2013

How to Start Blogging in 6 Easy Steps

1. Visit WordPress.com and click “Get Started” to sign up

2. Enter your email, a username and password, and then choose a name for your blog

Or, if you prefer to post to an existing blog, click “sign up for just a username” to the right of the blog name box

3. Check your email and confirm your registration

4. Sign in to WordPress.com > go to MyBlogs > click “Create New Blog

(Bonus step: Anytime after this point, you can go back to MyBlogs and click “Change appearance” to choose a theme!)

5. Under MyBlogs, you should now see your new blog – click “1 Post” and then near the top of the page “Add New Post

6. You should now see a box where you can add text, pictures and videos. When you are finished editing, click Publish!

For some good tips on How to Write a Good Blog Post – check out this post by the British Council.
To see what good blog posts look like and maybe find some inspiration, check out Time Magazine’s Top 25 Blogs of 2012!
If you’re having trouble with any of the steps above, or if you want to learn more about WordPress.com, check their support page.
Have fun playing around with the various buttons and settings. Welcome to the world of blogging!

– Sarah Topps 2013