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Tableau: First Steps

Getting started building compelling visualizations

Topic: Data
Christopher Gardner

Our lives are full of data. There are numbers everywhere. Why do you need data visualization to understand your data? Most people are not good at looking at tables of numbers and interpreting them correctly. To gain information from a table of data requires effort and time that most of us do not have.

By visualizing the data, we are taking away the effort and replacing it with something called pre-attentive attributes – things that we notice automatically. These are things like length, height, size, and color. We can gather information about visual data quickly, as pattern detection is inherent in our physiology.

Tableau is a tool that can take tables of data from multiple sources and convert them into visual format. This saves large amounts of time and leads to insights that might otherwise be missed.

APAC friendly

What you'll learn-and how you can apply it

By the end of this live, hands-on, online course, you’ll understand:

  • How to connect to your data. You will learn to utilize all of your data through multiple data connections, tables, joins, and field manipulation. We will spend time on ensuring that the data is correct and in the right format for use in Tableau.
  • How to decide which chart type works best for your data and the questions you need to answer and how to utilize graphic design techniques to make the data easier to digest. You will learn which visualizations to use for your data as well as which chart types to avoid and why. Additionally, you will learn how to manipulate these visualizations and validate the numbers in them using multiple chart types, color, labels, tooltips, and other Tableau functionality.
  • How to craft visuals to answer the question. Formatting and layout are keys to making information readable and understandable by other users. You will learn how to focus on accessibility, readability, and user experience to make your charts useful. We will then combine your visualizations into a cohesive dashboard to tell a complete story about the information within the data.

And you’ll be able to:

  • Connect to multiple types of data sets, understanding joins, unions, queries, and filters to streamline the data.
  • Build a basic visualization in Tableau, using visualization and design best practices.
  • Identify examples in modern media of incorrect or misleading data visualizations and how to avoid making one yourself.

This training course is for you because...

  • You’re an analyst or decision maker in your current role.
  • You work with data on a regular basis and use this data to help facilitate decision making or you are hoping to do so in the future.
  • You want to become a data advocate for your organization by facilitating information access through data visualization.


  • Familiarity with basic database principles, such as tables and fields.
  • Familiarity with simple coding logic, such as if/then and case when.

Recommended preparation:

  • Download and install Tableau Desktop. A free trial version is fine, as long as the trial is active during the class.
  • Download the provided data set to use during the class.This will need to be downloaded in Excel format (.xlsx) on your desktop.

Recommended follow-up:

About your instructor

  • Christopher Gardner is the campus Tableau application administrator at the University of Michigan, controlling security, updates, and performance maintenance. He’s also part of a small team responsible for developing and maintaining a suite of university-level dashboards used by campus budget administrators, deans, and university leadership. As part of his job, he leads a monthly daylong Tableau introduction course at the university. He presented at the Tableau Conference in 2019. Christopher holds a degree in actuarial mathematics from the University of Michigan.


The timeframes are only estimates and may vary according to how the class is progressing

Getting Started (15 minutes)

  • Installing and Configuring Tableau
  • Connect to Data
    • Local data files: Access, Excel on shared Drives
    • Databases
    • Cloud based: Google sheets
  • Working with Data Connections

Tableau Interface (15 minutes)

  • Data/Analytics Window
    • Dimensions
    • Measures
    • Data Types and Changing Data Types
    • Discrete vs Continuous
    • Other Items in Data Pane
  • Footer Bar
  • Columns/Rows
  • Marks Shelf
  • Show Me

Basic Chart Creation (20 minutes)

  • Adding Dimensions/Measures
  • Changing Chart Types
  • Exercise: Build a simple chart to answer a question.
  • Q&A
  • Break (5 minutes)

More Detailed Chart Creation (35 minutes)

  • Using the Marks Card
    • Visualization type
    • Color: pill vs. no pill
    • Size: pill vs. no pill
    • Label: pill vs. no pill
    • Detail
    • Tooltip: pill vs. no pill
    • Shape: pill vs. no pill
  • Filtering the Data
  • Exercise: Build a map to answer a question.
  • Q&A
  • Break (5 minutes)

Table Calculations and Sorting (30 minutes)

  • Table Calculations/Calculations within Charts
    • Running Total
    • Percent of Total
    • Difference
    • Percent Difference
    • Rank
  • Sorting
  • Exercise: Use table calculations to find percent of total sales.
  • Q&A
  • Break (5 minutes)

Calculations (20 minutes)

  • Creating a calculation
    • Troubleshooting
    • Aggregation
  • Exercise: Use calculations to find resulting values if they increase in future years.

Data Visualization Best Practices and Q&A (25 minutes)