What Exactly is an Insight? A Literature Review

Leilani Battle, Alvitta Ottley

Room: 109

2023-10-25T03:48:00ZGMT-0600Change your timezone on the schedule page
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Based on a review of the literature, insights seem to capture knowledge that can be inferred directly from a dataset such as data facts, generalizations of these facts, and hypotheses to be tested (internal knowledge). Insights also link internal knowledge with user domain knowledge, personal experiences, and tool expertise (external knowledge).
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Insight Discovery, Visualization Theory


Insights are often considered the ideal outcome of visual analysis sessions. However, there is no single definition of what an insight is. Some scholars define insights as correlations, while others define them as hypotheses or aha moments. This lack of a clear definition can make it difficult to build visualization tools that effectively support insight discovery. In this paper, we contribute a comprehensive literature review that maps the landscape of existing insight definitions. We summarize key themes regarding how insight is defined, with the goal of helping readers identify which definitions of insight align closely with their research and tool development goals. Based on our review, we also suggest interesting research directions, such as synthesizing a unified formalism for insight and connecting theories of insight to other critical concepts in visualization research.