We see and use bar graphs, pie charts, and line graphs everyday.

But which one is best to communicate your information?

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The type of data influences what the right type of graph to use is.

  • Are you comparing favorite movies by gender or age? Use a bar graph.

  • Are you doing a survey of how many people drink alcohol daily for a year? Use a line graph.

  • Are you comparing a monthly budget against monthly expenses? Use a pie chart.

Use A Bar Graph To Compare

  • Use a bar graph to show comparisons between descriptive or ordered data.

Bar graphsare the most used and versatile graph. Data is independent of each other and can be placed on either the horizontal line (x-axis) or the vertical line (y-axis).

Vertical vs. Horizontal Bars

  • Use a horizontal or stacked bar graph if you want to compare various subjects like favorite types of fruit by a total number of people.

TIP: Sort the data from lowest to highest.

  • Use a vertical bar graph if you want to compare values that are ordered or in a sequence like favorite types of fruit by age groups.

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Use A Line Graph To Show Change

  • Use a line chart to show data that changes over a period.

Line charts show change over time (days, months or years), trends (past, current or future) or across a value (temperature, age, height, weight etc.). Data on a line graph is dependent on each other.

Line graphs are not as flexible as bar graphs.

  • The line of the graph always starts on the left and moves along the horizontal line (x-axis).

  • The values on the horizontal line (x-axis) show a period of time or values that are changing (e.g. growth of a person).

  • The values on the vertical line (y-axis) shows who or what is being affected (e.g. age of a person).

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Which one of these data sets would be best represented on a line graph?

Use A Pie Chart To Show Data At A Glance

  • Use a pie chart to show data as a whole.

Pie charts let you visually compare data that is descriptive (e.g. favorite type of movie) or in a sequence (e.g. favorite movie by overall sales for the year). Pie charts show data that is dependent.

  • The pie chart is a circle and uses angles and percentages to show data.

  • Each slice is assigned a category and a color.

  • Avoid too many categories, try to keep it to a maximum of 6.

Don’t use pie charts if you have a lot of data to represent.

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Which data set would be best represented through a pie chart?

Take Action

Before selecting the best graph or chart, take a look at the type of data you have.

Once you've selected the best option. Gather your data and start creating your graph or chart. The end goal is to present all the data visually and mostly importantly, accurately!


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