More Visual Tables of Content (II)

by Feb 6, 2018

I while ago, I shared how I always struggle for some seconds to make sense of Tables of content.

Why? Because, for me, they represent the structure of a more or less dense network of information grouped by chapters that have certainly some relationship among each other. However, instead of depicting those relationships, they all look like a mere list of sections, that has some kind of hierarchy – but that’s all I can tell from looking at them.

At the end of the day, what is a table of contents?  It is a display in your report or document that reveals in advance the content of the document, how the information inside has been structured + the page in which you can find each section.

Like this one. Here is a fairly simple, yet rather standard Table of contents in an evaluation report (authomatically generated by Word):

OK. But we could do better than that, by providing this, but at the same time adding extra information about the sections in the report, and their relationship, so readers of the document have a quicker sense on how the document “works”, and how to navigate it!

My favorite example for a long time has been this one, the table of contents of the Data Journalism Handbook (2012), Jonathan Gray, Lucy Chambers, Liliana Bounegru. It is maybe easier in a handbook, but I really like it because it kind of tells you already the process for doing Data Journalism (and the chapters in small black boxes):

So I thought: all right, in an evaluation report, there are always:

  • Introductory sections (that help you understand the context and framework)
  • Then the Findings and Conclusions themselves (if the evaluation was well conducted, this is the most important part),
  • And then some extra information (annexes) that provide further detail and data.

So why can’t I display that, in a very simple visual way? And then, just by adding the number of the section on one corner and the number of page on the other, I have a visual Table of Content? Would this help me understand better the structure? My personal answer was yes. So I did.

In this case, a leyend should say that Grey color boxes mean introductory chapters, Light blue is for evaluation-specific chapters and results, and Darker blue are the key sections that are a must-read, for example.

Another thing I tried in another report was to highlight the more innovative, interesting parts of the report, to provide guidance to the busy reader in case they couldn’t read the whole report. So I used virtual annotations, like making notes on top of an otherwise traditional table of contents:

I haven’t experimented much on this area, but it is definitely in my list of things to do for future reports.

Here is a little sample of ideas I will try to adapt in forthcoming occasions, depending on what the situation calls for:

Including pictures

As a timeline

Little explanations per chapter

Periodic table

Using size for relevance

Graphic design B/N

I realize some of these examples start incurring into the Graphic Design arena, more than into the Data Visualization one… But I guess, for me, anything is better than a traditional, unattractive table of contents…!

I will continue exploring and I will let you know where this road takes me! Cheers!

New posts coming up:

(published every two weeks-ish 🙂 )

  • ToCs series
  • Visual summary of impact designs
  • Visual summaries of other criteria designs
  • Ideas to make Bibliographies more informative
  • Ways of mapping beneficiaries
  • My favorite pre-attentive features
  • Ideas for reports (series)
  • Some day: iterations with the Periodic Table of Evaluation

And more!

Stay tuned! 🙂

You want to see more Visuals?