Storytelling in Analytics, Part 1

Andy Fox Engagement Manager
Read Time: 4 minutes apprx.
data visualization SCQA storytelling visualization

Storytelling is in the forefront at Opex Analytics this summer! First, we held an Opex Analytics Academy session, where we discussed the importance of storytelling and visualization in analytics. Then, my colleague Alex Banks-Watson posted his blog, The Key to Successful Data Science isn’t the Best Analytics , to prime us on the cadence of an analytics story, and how it can better connect audiences. As Alex mentions, we’ve all been in the situation, as either analyst or business sponsor, where great analytics work doesn’t generate the response we expect. It can be incredibly frustrating. However, it highlights the need for an often underappreciated practice that should be part of any analytics toolkit: storytelling and visualization. In the Opex Analytics Academy session, we discussed ways to strengthen storytelling in analytics through 3 key ideas:

    1. Keep It Simple


    1. Make It Personal


  1. Deliberate on Visualization

Part 1 of this post will detail frameworks for storytelling tied to the first and second ideas.

Keeping it Simple with SCQA


With months of work under your belt, as an analyst, it’s often easy to dig into too much detail when explaining an analytical model. Instead, the analytics start to shine when they are tied clearly and simply to the business context and customer outcomes. One framework we have used to simplify our presentation of results is called SCQA. Ever since I learned this 4-letter acronym years ago, I have gone back to it again and again when I am having trouble getting to a simple message – whether that be communicating an analysis, making presentation slides, writing an e-mail, or when faced with a challenging conversation. Detailed in The Minto Pyramid Principle, SCQA stands for Situation, Complication, Question, Answer.

    • Situation: where are we now? What is a fact that the audience cannot argue? Build common ground, potentially with a quick descriptive data fact.


    • Complication: what is the problem? Why are we here? What do we need to act upon? Create tension, the twist in the plot. As an analytics firm, most of our Complications tend to be supported with data.


    • Question: what do we do next? What are our options? Allude to the potential root cause of the Complication.


  • Answer: what is the recommendation? How should we act on the analysis? As an Executive Summary, more action and analytics can support the Answer in the discussion to follow.

Here’s an example with a problem that some of us face each winter: walking the family dog.

Situation: we all love the family dog, and he brings boundless joy to each of us.
Complication: yet, he needs to go out twice-daily, and it’s 20 degrees outside. I have taken the dog out 9 out of the last 10 times, when we agreed he was a family responsibility.
Question: how can we share the responsibility of taking care of our beloved dog?
Answer: create a walking schedule that mixes day of week and morning vs. evening (since it’s much harder to do it in the morning)

SCQA is surprisingly easy to follow, and the best way to adopt it is to give it a try in the next problem you are trying to solve, either independently or with a group!

Do your Audience Homework to Make It Personal

An analysis, presentation, or argument structured in SCQA can go in many directions depending on your audience. In fact, it’s possible to do several distinct SCQAs on the same problem if the perspectives of your audience are different! One Size Doesn’t Fit All in the world of storytelling. Studying your audience prior to an analytics presentation can ensure that you are communicating the value of the work effectively. For example, is the audience…

    • Technical or non-technical? Do they need to learn the methods, or simply the results? Will they challenge the details? Typically analysts need the details and executives want to get to the point quickly.


    • Cross-cultural? Do they cross business units or even geographies? Avoid slang and abbreviations that might be unclear to everyone participating.


  • Open or skeptical of new ideas? Open audiences need to be inspired while skeptical audiences need convincing to open their eyes first. Brush up on the current business events affecting their team, so they know how the analysis can help.


With all the time and effort that goes into the technical parts of great analytics work, it is critical to set aside time in the project plan for reflection and storytelling. With the frameworks described in this post, you won’t have to start from scratch in making the most of telling the story with analytics. Stay tuned for Part 2, which will provide tips on visualization!