Drawing water

Diagrams don’t make the data …

They help us visualize data better.

Swamp water pyramid

A good diagram isn’t too simple and isn’t too complex. Most of all it helps make the data come to life. Take for example a good cross section of the swamp. You can explain to someone until the cows come home that cypress are in the low lying areas and pinelands higher up. But it’s not until you diagram up a three-dimensional wedge of land going from lowest to highest, and assign an elevation for each, that the data really start to pop.

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Question: What’s the purpose of drawing when Uncle Internet supplies us with all the images we need?

And you can talk about the water seasons – sentence after sentence – until everyone’s eyes start to glaze over with blank looks, or you can without even saying a word show them an animated diagram that instantly connects.

An oldie, but a goodie (of the Everglades)

In short, diagrams are like a photo: They cut to the chase without using many (if any) words. Somewhere along the way somebody said “a thousand words” but I’ve never read a scientific paper confirming or denying its accuracy, although that’s probably not the point. The power of a good diagrams is making direct connect and help translate complex concepts or processes that words alone cannot convey (well).

And lastly, who doesn’t love looking at a simple but well done diagram, especially if it’s animated with some moving parts. Some may say that’s soft science, or not science at all. But for me it strikes at the core of the profession: Translating information and processes into formats people can understand.

cypress dome cartoon
A simple drawing of a flooded cypress dome

I heart diagrams.

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