Racing sheets

December 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

racing sheet exampleWhen I work with reporters on graphics that need lots of text blocks, I tell them to write the copy like a racing sheet: short, punchy, concise and almost exactly the same length from item to item. But not everybody goes to the race track, so here are two examples of racing sheets. Click on them to make them bigger.




West Nile virus

August 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

west nile virus

As I post this, you don’t have to worry much about West Nile virus, unless you happen to live in Dallas County, Tex., where 155 people have caught the disease and 10 have died so far this year. I know this because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracks West Nile virus closely and reports every case where it has been found in mosquitoes, birds, horses and humans.

The Wall Street Journal map above reflects data from the CDC that can be found on this Web page:

If you want to create a more local map or graphic, the CDC goes into greater geographic detail, as you can see from this map on the CDC West Nile virus pages.

Diffusion indexes

July 9, 2012 § 1 Comment

purchasing managers index

Diffusion indexes confuse the heck out of people the first time they see one. But once diffusion indexes become familiar, they make a whole lot of sense. To chart a diffusion index and label it properly, you really need to understand what the numbers mean. (Okay, that goes for any graphic, but don’t expect to wing it with a diffusion index.)

With a diffusion index, 50 is the baseline, anything above that indicates expansion, anything below that indicates contraction. What confuses people is this: If the number is 60 in one month and 55 the next, that does not indicate contraction, it indicates slower expansion. If the number is 40 one month and 45 the next, that does not indicate expansion, it indicates slower contraction.

Take a look at the four examples of diffusion indexes in this post. I believe they were all made by Pat Minczeski on The Wall Street Journal graphics team. You will see that The Wall Street Journal took great pains to label not just whether a figure indicates expansion or contraction, but whether it is slower or faster than the previous month.

purchasing managers index



Usually when you chart a diffusion index, you are looking at some form of purchasing managers index of manufacturing activity. The Institute for Supply Management and Markit provide much of this data. To create an index, ISM surveys purchasing managers and asks them whether they’re doing more, less, or the same of things like placing new orders, hiring people or producing goods. The manufacturing index (or its sub-indexes) reflects their responses.

Here is a link to the most recent ISM report:

And here are the historical numbers for the main manufacturing index:

For detailed historical figures, you probably need to contact the Institute for Supply Management or Markit. I haven’t found detailed figures on their sites. Give me a shout if you come across them.


American Time Use Survey

June 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

American Time Use Survey

Each year since 2003, usually in late June, the Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes a snapshot of how Americans use their time. The Wall Street Journal graphic shown here is one example of what you can do with numbers from the report. This graphic just scratches the surface. The BLS counts time use in a number of ways, and breaks it down by sex, age and employment status. The report also includes a section just on how Americans spend their leisure time. The American Time Use Survey can be found here:

Space launches

April 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

FAA commercial space launches year in review

Each year, the Federal Aviation Administration counts up all the space launches around the world and releases a report with loads of detail on  how many launches each country made, what they were for, and even the type of rockets they used.

Each report only gives information for the previous year, so if you want to show a trend over time, you would have to go through each annual report to gather the info. You can find them here:

The big takeaway from this year’s report is that China has passed the U.S. in the annual number of space launches for the first time.

faa commercial space launch year in review

I haven’t had a chance to use info from this report in a graphic, but I’m keeping it in my back pocket.


Halloween statistics

October 27, 2011 § Leave a comment

halloween costume statistics graphic
Each year the National Retail Federation releases a survey on how much Americans plan to spend on Halloween, how they plan to celebrate and what costume they will wear. They survey offers a chance to create some interesting charts. Above is an example from The Wall Street Journal. Below is a graphic from the Columbia Missourian (
Halloween infographic from Columbia Missourian

Arab-Latin mashup

September 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

A crazy mashup of Middle-Eastern and Latin styles has emerged from the infographics coming out of the Emirates. Peruvian designer Luis Chumpitaz, at the Arab Media group, lies at the heart of this trend. Check out his portfolio:

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