How to Find the Story in Data


We’re often asked why we use the terms story and storytelling when we talk about market research.

Most people probably think of data and stories as living in completely different parts of the brain. But as researchers, we know that the data is only the beginning – the true value of what we do lies in bringing that information to life in actionable ways.

As an Associate at THREE, I’ve learned that only a few steps lie between data and a compelling story.

These are the 4 steps everyone uses:

  1. Identify themes.
  2. Consider how these themes address client partner questions.
  3. Ask yourself what questions you still have.
  4. Look at specific cuts of data to address these questions.

These are a good start. But here are a few tricks to push yourself further:

  1. Print out the highlights (yeah, I’m saying it – print your data) and shuffle them around until you start to form a narrative.
  2. Start at the end and work backwards. Your story won’t necessarily be linear, so ask yourself: where do you need to end up?
  3. Post-It notes and colored markers are your friends (are you sensing a theme around getting out of your data software here?)
  4. Revise, revise, and revise again.

Revision isn’t a word we hear often in relation to data – after all, facts are facts. But revision is actually the key to finding the story in your research. The details aren’t going to change, and your end will always be the same, but with each subsequent revision, your narrative and your understanding of the data will improve.

Ultimately, that understanding is the key, whether it’s your scissors or Post-Its or Delete button that get you there. Because all data tells a story – and once you find that story, the way forward becomes clear.

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