1. George, Karen J. DNP, RN, CEN, VHA-CM

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Data is essential in today's world. Accurate presentation of the data, or presentation of data to manipulate the intended audience either unintentionally or intentionally can occur. A quote, attributed to Greg Easterbrook, provides an insight, "Torture numbers, and they'll confess to anything." Therefore, it is important to present data in ways that are appropriate, accurate, intentional, and meaningful.


Dr. James M. Smith is a healthcare data consultant with extensive experience in quality assurance and management. Having served as performance manager and quality management officer for multihospital systems, he has written extensively on statistics and data in both books and journals. He is a recognized national speaker and is the author of Meaningful Graphs: Converting Data Into Informative Excel Charts.


The purpose of Meaningful Graphs is to provide a "single concise source of practical information that incorporates both the principles of good graph design, and the software steps necessary to incorporate these principles into the graphs you create" (p. xii). The intended audience is individuals who use Excel to create and present data via charts and graphs. I find the content highly relevant in today's data-driven world.


Meaningful Graphs takes the reader through an organized, succinct journey from basic graph concepts through graph selection appropriate for the data, to formatting graphs and charts. The book is well organized into 11 chapters with appendices. The reference list is current and appropriate to the content and includes Web links to a wealth of other resources. Dr. Smith provides practical examples with diagrams and illustrations. He gives detailed yet simple descriptions related to appropriateness, accuracies, and inaccuracies in communicating data. The author includes information on clearing clutter from graphs and charts. Dr. Smith challenges the reader to think about what message they wish to communicate about the data they are presenting. He uses verbiage that engages the reader. Personal comments by the author are appropriate, logical, and helpful.


Meaningful Graphs is a 226-page, relatively short yet concise resource. The price is reasonable at $26.96. The font is large and thus aids in readability. Examples of charts and graphs and instructions bring clarity to the concepts presented. I found only a couple of negatives in the book. This reviewer sees book structure as too large with lots of wasted white space. This reviewer would prefer a pocket-size book. Comments included following what your boss asks for regardless if it is the right thing to do. Bad data or bad presentation of data contributes to junk in and junk out. Bad data or presentation of data should be challenged with supporting evidence. As William W. Watt once said, "Do not put your faith in what statistics say until you have carefully considered what they do not say." This is the same with presenting data in graphs and charts. Not only is the type of graph or chart important but, Dr. Smith adds, "if you have to do any mental gymnastics to get the information you want form a chart, it's not a good chart" (p. 25).


Meaningful Graphs provides a quick, handy reference on how to, and how not to, present data. The book can be utilized as both a learning tool and a resource. I highly recommend this book for use in colleges and universities as the introduction to chart/graph creation, for educators, instructors, researchers, management staff, or any individual whose work requires manipulation or sharing of data. The book would also be helpful for those who read or interpret data. When it comes to the utilization of and presentation of data in health care, I find Meaningful Graphs an excellent resource.


Disclaimer: The author has disclosed that she has no significant relationships with, or financial interest in, any commercial companies pertaining to this review.