Innovations in Visualization

Active Reading of Visualizations

Jagoda Walny
Samuel Huron
Charles Perin
Tiffany Wun
Richard Pusch
Sheelagh Carpendale


We investigate whether the notion of active reading for text might be usefully applied to visualizations. Through a qualitative study we explored whether people apply observable active reading techniques when reading paper-based node-link visualizations. Participants used a range of physical actions while reading, and from these we synthesized an initial set of active reading techniques for visualizations. To learn more about the potential impact such techniques may have on visualization reading, we implemented support for one type of physical action from our observations (making freeform marks) in an interactive node-link visualization. Results from our quantitative study of this implementation show that interactive support for active reading techniques can improve the accuracy of performing low-level visualization tasks. Together, our studies suggest that the active reading space is ripe for research exploration within visualization and can lead to new interactions that make for a more flexible and effective visualization reading experience.

Supplemental materials available here

Physical actions we observed during our study of active reading of node-link visualizations. Physical actions are ordered from left to right by increasing physical engagement.


Jagoda Walny, Samuel Huron, Charles Perin, Tiffany Wun, Richard Pusch and Sheelagh Carpendale. Active Reading of Visualizations. IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics, PP(99):1-1, 2017. PDF Paper

Preprint available here