The discourse on information visualization often remains limited to the exploratory function — its potential for discovering patterns in the data. However, visual representations also have a rhetorical function: they demonstrate, persuade, and facilitate communication.

In observing how visualization is used in presentations and discussions, I often notice the use of what could be called “visual anecdotes.” Small narratives are tied to individual data points in the visualization, giving human context to the data and rooting the abstract representation in personal experience. This paper argues that these narratives are more than just illustrations of the dataset; they constitute a central epistemological element of the visualization. By considering these narrative elements as parts of the visualization, its design and knowledge organization appear in a different light.

This paper investigates how the “story” of data representation is delivered. By means of ethnographic interviews and observations, the author highlights the different aspects of the visual anecdote, a specific point where the exploratory and the rhetorical functions of visualization meet.

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