Charts Vs Tables or When to Use One Over the Other

Charts Vs Tables or When to Use One Over the Other

We live in a world driven by data so being able to understand, manipulate, and communicate data is an essential skill. Knowing how to best display the data for maximum impact is vital. This article created by our team at wpDataTables will explain how to effectively use charts and tables. 

What is a Chart?

Chart built with wpDataTables, the best tables & charts WordPress plugin

Charts and graphs display data in a visual format, showing relationships between different data sets. It is easy to see patterns and, in some cases, future trends can be identified.

Charts take on many forms, and one of their key functions is they can display a great deal of data in a simple and comprehensible way.

A chart is used when you need to communicate complex information to show patterns and trends. Pie charts can quickly explain relative proportions of time or resource usage. Bar charts show distributions of results. An X-Y chart can be used to calculate an equation for the relationship between two data sets.

A chart allows the viewer to quickly understand the data and provides the ability to dig deeper into the data to fully comprehend it. Charts help to easily answer questions such as: Is the problem increasing over time? Who is spending the most on this type of holiday? How is the strength of my steel bar affected by the alloying elements?.

Charts vs Tables – When to use Charts?

Chart built with wpDataTables, the best tables & charts WordPress plugin

If you have complicated data that needs to be simplified and presented in a way that shows a pattern or trend, a chart should always be used. They can be used to show the following:

  • Trends over time. How many new cases of Covid-19 are there each day?
  • Patterns or shapes of data. Is there a straight-line growth in demand for ice cream or are there seasonal variations superimposed on that growth?
Chart built with wpDataTables with the help of Google Charts.
  • Explaining the relationship between two or more sets of data. Does the BMI (Body Mass Index) of a person impact their blood pressure?
  • Illustrating the size of values compared to each other. A bubble chart, for example, could show the price and overall volume of sales for a group of product lines.
  • Displaying variability, either using a distribution curve using a bar chart or a best-fit line on an X-Y chart to illustrate the variation from the ‘norm’.
Chart built with wpDataTables, the best tables & charts WordPress plugin
  • Highlighting ‘odd-ball’ results and helping to explain them.
  • Collecting high volumes of data. Global population trends can be summarized by averages in continents or individual countries.
  • Visualizing aspects of your data. Are there geographical patterns that appear? Which US State has the highest average IQ?
Chart built with wpDataTables, the best tables & charts WordPress plugin

If in doubt, always use a chart rather than a table. Our minds tend to receive information more quickly with a chart.

Charts can be overused. Pick out the key information and use the most appropriate chart. There is a tendency to fill our presentations with too many pie charts, which can distract from the vital information in your presentation.

Charts vs Tables – When to use Tables?

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A table is data arranged in columns and rows. It can also include grid lines to separate the data. Each intersection of a column and a row represents one piece of data. This is called a ‘cell’.

Tables can also display text, color, symbols, or any other relevant information. Tables can be anything from a few columns and rows to multidimensional data sets like the multiplication tables.

Table built with wpDataTables, the best tables & charts WordPress plugin

Tables should be used instead of charts when precision is key, for example, a scientific or medical research report. These readers need to be able to probe deeper into the results rather than getting a general picture from a chart or graph.

Tables are also useful for looking at multidimensional information that is impossible to show on a chart.

The Table Chart dilemma – When to use a Table?

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A table is the best option if you have data that needs to be analyzed in detail, being less abstract and allowing close examination of specific results. It is important to remember to use tables when using data from scientific research or medical trials.

Sometimes data just cannot be displayed on a chart. If you have fourteen variables associated with the final strength of a sample of steel, it is difficult to show that visually.

Use a table in the following situations:

  • If the reader needs to look at specific values within the data set.
  • If the precise value is key rather than a trend or general pattern.
  • If there are multiple outputs or inputs to be analyzed.
  • If there is specific information and averaged results included in the data.

Table or Chart – When to Use One or the Other?

It depends on the audience and how you want the data to be used. People react very differently to the way the  information is presented, and it is essential that you focus on the effectiveness of your message. There is no point in simply entertaining the viewer with a glamorous chart when the specific data is not clearly understood.


Table built with wpDataTables, the best tables & charts WordPress plugin

It all begins with your audience. If they tend to be analytical and want to examine the raw data, a table is the best choice. If they prefer a quick summary of the information a chart would be sufficient.

Raw vs Processed Data

Chart built with wpDataTables, the best tables & charts WordPress plugin

Tables show raw data. Charts summarize and smooth data for visual effect. If you want precise values, use tables. If you want generalizations, use charts.

Publishing Format

Chart built with wpDataTables and HighchartsHow you present data to the viewer makes all the difference. If you are sending out a printed report to your peers, then a table can be reviewed at their leisure. If your data will be presented on television or on social media, then charts should be used.

Presentation Context

Chart built with wpDataTables, the best tables & charts WordPress plugin

In addition to formatting the data, the way that the audience will interact with it needs to be considered. Questions such as; will the audience have time to sit back and read the information? Will you have the opportunity to clarify points, or does the document have to stand up to scrutiny on its own?


Chart built with wpDataTables, the best tables & charts WordPress plugin

Charts are great for summarized data. They show shapes and patterns that supply insights quickly and efficiently. Tables give the raw data and leave it up to the reader to work out what it shows. A combination of the two can be useful. Display the data in either one or two charts. Then show the raw data in a table, either in the body of the report or in the appendix.

Charts vs tables: the difference – Can you use both?

Chart built with wpDataTables, the best tables & charts WordPress plugin

There are advantages to using both charts and tables:

  • Tables and Charts will present the data differently.
  • Data labels on a chart can highlight actual results.
  • A summary chart might have additional information from a table that gives extra details and context.
  • Different audiences need different communication methods from the same presentation.

FAQ about charts vs tables

What’s the difference between charts and tables?

Oh, I can totally help with that! So, charts are visual representations of data that often use symbols, lines, or bars to convey information, making it easy to spot patterns or trends.

On the other hand, tables are more structured and use rows and columns to display data, which can be great for comparing values or looking up specific details. Both are useful, but it really depends on the type of data you’re working with and how you want to present it.

Which one is better for showing data trends?

Well, I’d say that charts are typically better for showing data trends. They’re more visually appealing and make it easier to spot patterns or changes over time.

Line charts, bar charts, and area charts are some common examples of charts that can help you identify trends. Tables can also show trends, but it takes more effort to analyze the numbers and identify patterns as quickly as with charts.

When should I use tables instead of charts?

You know, tables can be really useful in specific situations. You might want to use a table if you need to display a lot of detailed information, or if you want to allow readers to easily compare values or look up specific data points.

Tables are also great when the focus is on the exact numbers, rather than a visual representation of the data.

Can I combine charts and tables?

Of course, you can! Combining charts and tables can be a great way to present data in a comprehensive manner.

You can use a chart to give a visual overview of the data trends and a table to provide detailed information. This way, your audience can get both the big picture and the specifics, depending on their needs.

Are there any disadvantages to using charts?

Sure, there are some disadvantages to using charts. Sometimes, charts can oversimplify data, making it difficult to discern subtle differences or nuances.

Additionally, certain types of charts can be misleading if not designed carefully. For example, a pie chart with too many categories can be hard to interpret, while a 3D chart can distort the data, making it appear different from its true values.

What are some common types of charts?

There are quite a few common types of charts! Line charts, bar charts, and pie charts are some of the most popular ones.

You’ve also got scatter plots, area charts, and bubble charts, among others. Each type of chart is suited to different kinds of data and has its own unique strengths and weaknesses.

How do I choose the right chart type?

To choose the right chart type, you should consider the type of data you’re working with and the message you want to convey.

Think about whether you want to show trends, compare values, or display distributions. It’s also important to consider your audience and their familiarity with different chart types.

Sometimes, it’s best to stick with simpler charts if you’re unsure or if your audience might not be familiar with more complex options.

What are the best practices for creating tables?

When creating tables, there are a few best practices you should follow. Keep it clean and organized, with clear labels for rows and columns.

You might also want to use shading or formatting to highlight important values or differentiate between rows. Don’t forget to include units of measurement, if applicable, and try to keep the table as simple and concise as possible.

How can I make my charts more engaging?

To make your charts more engaging, you can play with color, style, and formatting. Make sure to choose colors that are easy on the eyes and don’t clash. You can also use different chart styles, like using a combination of line and bar charts, or trying out interactive charts.

Just remember, your main goal is to convey information clearly, so don’t go overboard with the design. Keep your audience in mind, and make sure the chart is easy to understand, while also being visually appealing.

What tools can I use to create charts and tables?

There are plenty of tools out there to help you create charts and tables! Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets are popular options for both charts and tables, offering a wide range of features and templates.

For more advanced or specialized charting, you might want to explore tools like Tableau, Power BI, or D3.js. It’s all about finding the right tool that fits your needs and skill level, so don’t be afraid to experiment and find the one that works best for you.

Ending thoughts on charts vs tables

On a WordPress dashboard, both tables and charts can offer benefits when showcasing data. Your WordPress dashboard needs to illustrate your analysis. It should strengthen your claims  by using the right data presentation.  This article explained what to consider when deciding whether to use either charts or tables, such as, your audience, and your particular type of raw data. What are you trying to achieve by displaying the data? Or what reaction do you want from the audience?

wpDataTables is a plugin for WordPress that helps manage all your data with tables and charts. Using wpDataTables, you will:

  • Be able to build customizable charts and tables for your WordPress posts or pages.
  • Edit tables on the back end and front-end and allow approved users permission to view and edit tables.
  • Customize tables using sophisticated features, formatting, filtering, etc.

Highlight pricing, performance statistics, or any other data set that you specify. Your goal is to create beautiful pages. By choosing the right chart and table, your WordPress website can become visually pleasing as well as informative.

If you enjoyed reading this article on charts vs tables, you should check out this one about how to import data with a WordPress Excel spreadsheet plugin.

We also wrote about a few related subjects like table background color, Bootstrap tables, statistical tables, how to center a table with CSS, HTML tables, WordPress charts plugins, responsive tables with CSS, CSS tables and jQuery table plugins.

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