Data Story #1: Requirements and Details


  • Text or word document, submitted to Canvas
  • 800-1,200 words (About 2.5 to 4 double-spaced, typewritten pages)
  • No headline necessary
  • No images necessary
  • Links to secondary sources such as articles, experts, datasets
  • Inclusion of DATA ADDENDUM, a summary of your data set and how you found, used and manipulated that data set. This can be a separate page, following the data story (see example below)
  • You may do a visual — chart, Google Fusion table, map, etc. but this should be in addition to the story, not a substitute for the word-based data story. You’ll also have the chance to do a visual with the rewrite/final version.



My data set:

Source: Propublica, using info from the U.S. Department of Education

What it is: Alternative Schools Data — information on alternative schools across the US


Date: March 2017 release; data is from 2013-2014

How I used the data:

  • I submitted a request to download the original data from ProPublica
  • Once I had the data, I looked specifically at Michigan schools, then narrowed in on graduation rates of regular schools vs. alternative schools
  • Consulting the coding guide and the README text, I determined the relevant columns and the methodology used for the data
  • Sorting the data based on percentage differences between the alternative and regular school students, I determined a list of schools where alternative students’ grad rates were significantly lower than the regular grad rates
  • I consulted the ProPublica report to see what this said about alternative schools overall across the country, so I could bring some context to the data.


What your data story should include:

  • At least THREE primary sources of information
    • At least one data set — the data set itself, directly from the original source
      • Newspaper articles and journals may be cited, but in general these are secondary and NOT primary sources, and should only be cited as support for your story’s major points
    • Primary sources may include government institutions and websites, as well as educational websites. Be sure to correctly source them, and link to them in your story if they are online.
    • Primary sources may include PEOPLE you have interviewed.
      • When interviewing people, be sure to take careful notes and ONLY quote them directly. If you have a smart phone that records, I highly recommend using it.
      • No anonymous sources. If you use a person, name that person, tell what their title is and be clear about why they are qualified to be a source
    • Primary sources may include studies published by reputable organizations
    • Primary sources may include direct observations that are documentable. For example, if you were writing about the amenities of buildings on campus, your direct observations — how many bathrooms, how many windows — would be a primary source of information
  • Secondary sources of information that are acceptable:
    • A person who can speak about a primary source knowledgeably
      • For example, an expert on gun control might speak about the validity of a study about the use of guns. A PRIMARY source on that study would be the person who conducted the study.
    • An article or a study that supports a primary source

Your grade: What I’ll be looking for

When you write your data story, here are the things I’ll be looking for and grading you on:

Core data set:

    • An appropriate data source, reputable and used well
    • Data from the past 10 years if possible; if there is data from within the past two years, that’s great. Some data from the Census will go back to 2010.
    • Data set is vetted, filtered and you’ve ensured it’s in a format that is trustworthy
    • Data set is not “dirty” or corrupted.
    • Include your downloaded data set as an addendum to your story, or link to it if it’s an online data set


  • TIP: Look for a targeted data set, or one that is already “clean” — like one from ProPublica or a source that has already cleaned the data. It does NOT need to be large. Better to go for something small and targeted — then go “deep” in exploring it.


A strong lede:

  • Good selection of “most important” element or item
  • Focus on the 5 W’s and H
  • One or two sentences with punch to catch interest
  • Clear, concise and complete
  • Opinion statements MUST be attributed. Do NOT put your own opinions in the story!
  • Appropriateness
  • Smooth transition

Body of story

  • Fact-based sourcing
  • Primary sources: data, people, studies
  • Use of quotations and attributions is correct and appropriate
  • Follows smoothly
  • Facts correct
  • Complete
  • Fair and objective
  • Length assigned
  • Subject/content assigned (relevant based on overall “higher education” umbrella)
  • Format


  • Word selection/use
  • Punctuation
  • Grammar
  • Style
  • Spelling
  • Word choice (verbs, nouns)
  • Transitions

Major deductions and fatal errors:

  • An error of fact – misspelled proper name, wrong information, misleading information, inaccurate quote, inaccurate title — is fatal. Check EVERYTHING.
  • A story turned in late will automatically have 20 points deducted; if it’s more than a week late it will not be accepted

Additional links to data sources for college related stories

Still need backup and additional information for your stories? Here are some places you can look for additional data and information.

Tip: Look for a contact or source for the information, and call or email to find out if you can get downloads of the data in CSV form. Or ask to talk with someone about it. — Education topic area: This area has numerous data sets that can be downloaded and used for multiple topics

And education datasets:

National Center for Education Statistics: You can create QuickStat tables using various variables, basically zeroing in on a particular area (for example, the gender breakdown of college grads who did or did not do study abroad programs)

College Salary Report 2017: College salaries for postgrads of colleges across the country — you can narrow it to Michigan

ProPublica data sets (education): Look for the ones marked FREE


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