Data Visualization

Tableau overview

Tableau is a powerful piece of desktop software that lets you build visualizations using a drag and drop interface. It lets you import many kinds of numeric or categorical data and produce a range of graphics with great interactivity. Combining multiple data sources in one visualization is also possible. If you have access to Tableau server, you can automate refreshes of your data; Tableau Public allows you to publish for free if user/data privacy is not a concern (it also has a gallery that can inspire you). University instructors and students can use the authoring client for free!


Learning the basics

The easiest way to learn Tableau is to sign up for a free trial and play around with their Superstore dataset. The company's short video tutorials are excellent ways to learn on your own, step-by-step. 

Free authoring client for students | instructors

Tableau Starter Kits (videos)

Training: in-person | live online | self-paced online


Preparing your data | Video
Preparing your data

It helps immensely to have your data formatted correctly before bringing it into Tableau. This short guide shows a few basic steps you can take to get ready for import.





Connecting to data | Video

Choose the type of data you have from this pop-up menu. It can be a file on your computer, or a file/database on a server.


 Connecting to data


Making a simple view | Video
Making a simple view

Your data points will be grouped into dimensions and measures. Dimensions are categories of things; measures are counts of things in those categories. You drag and drop them onto columns or rows as need to build the view you want. The Show Me menu at the top right lets you change chart type, and recommends types based on your data.





Formatting | Video
FormattingWhile Tableau's default displays usually work well, it is worth your time to further format your visualization. Time spent adjusting screen elements to focus the user's attention, or to avoid overwhelming the user, is usually time well spent. Options to adjust include fonts, shading, alignment, borders, and graph lines. Color and size are particularly important to get right. You can format elements using the Marks card or the Formatting  menu. 








CubeHelix, adapted by research scientist James Davenport

Adding interactivity

Let your users customize their report! Here is an example of how Tableau lets you drill down to the specific elements you need:


Adding Interactivity


The main options you have as an author to add interactivity:

Via Filters | Video

Via Actions | Video

Via Parameters | Video


Getting help when you’re stuck

Knowledge Base

U-MN User Group



Sharing your viz

Tableau Reader

If your recipients have this app on their computer, they can download your viz, then view and interact with it. It’s like Acrobat Reader for viewing PDFs.

Tableau Public

You can create a free account on the company’s website, then post visualizations you create. The downside is that you cannot force the user to authenticate, so any private or sensitive data you post is available to anyone.

Tableau Server

Enterprise & Data Management & Reporting (EDMR) maintain a server for the campus.

Embedding views into webpages



Dashboard design
The Big Book of Dashboards

Dashboards let you combine multiple metrics, or alternate views of the same metric, in one screen. This can be much more effective than having your user shuttle between tabs, and serve to focus attention on the most important data. The example below is from The Big Book of Dashboards shows how the authors presented different data points about course enrollment, at the course level and in the aggregate.

Intro | Video


The Big Book of Dashboards:

Visualizing Your Data Using Real-World Business Scenarios

by Steve Wexler, Jeffrey Shaffer, Andy Cotgreave

Companion website with packaged workbooks








Combining data sources
Combining data sourcesThe ability to combine different data sources can be key, especially when you are dealing with discrete files rather than a database. You can use Unions to combine multiple tabs from a spreadsheet into one file to then visualize; or use Joins to combine tables (from the same database or different databases); or use Blends when a) you want to combine data from two databases that do not support cross-database joins and b) your data is at different levels of detail.

Unions | Video

Joins | Video

Blends | Video



Calculations | Video
CalculationsThe short video to the right shows how you can create new metrics from your original data source, or perform computations on your data. Calcs extend your ability to analyze your data. Potential applications from the help guide above include:

  • To segment data
  • To convert the data type of a field, e.g., converting a string to a date.
  • To aggregate data
  • To filter results
  • To calculate ratios 




Connecting to external data sources
Connecting to external data sourcesTableau allows you to connect directly to remote data sources. This can be a time saver, eliminating the need to export data from that source and then import it into Tableau, plus it makes it easier to update your visualization from this source later (manually or via a scheduled server refresh). The example to the right is how it looks when setting up a connection from your authoring client to Google Analytics.

Google Analytics

Google Sheets

Maps and Geographic Data








Optimizing performance
Optimizing PerformanceA common frustration is that you create a useful and pleasing visualization, only to see it take forever to load and hear your users complain. There are many things you can do to troubleshoot this problem. An easy fix is storing your data in an extract rather than connecting live. Or reducing the number of marks you have onscreen, each of which takes time to display. Or eliminating filters, however tempting it is to include as many filters as there are data points. For  more extensive issues, a performance recording is recommended. The example to the right, from Tableau training company Interworks, shows what a completed recording looks like.





Intro | Video: Advice from IBM Watson Health. Tuning Tableau dashboards for fast load times rapid performance (36:44)

Designing Efficient Workbooks: white paper by Alan Eldridge

Designing for different device types

Learning from experts

Tableau Conference session videos

Ebooks in MNCAT


Jumpstart Tableau  Jumpstart Tableau

       by Arshad Khan






Practical Tableau: 100 Tips, Tutorials, and Strategies from a Tableau Zen Master  Practical Tableau: 100 Tips, Tutorials, and Strategies from a Tableau Zen Master

       by Ryan Sleeper






Pro Tableau: A Step-by-Step Guide  Pro Tableau: A Step-by-Step Guide

       by Seema Acharya, Subhashini Chellappan






Tableau for Dummies  Tableau for Dummies

       by Molly Monsey, Paul Sochan






Tableau Your Data!: Fast and Easy Visual Analysis with Tableau Software  Tableau Your Data!: Fast and Easy Visual Analysis with Tableau Software

       by Daniel G Murray



Last Updated: Jul 25, 2021 4:25 PM