Charts Vs Tables or When to Use One Over the Other

Ever been caught in the tangle of data, where numbers swirl and the story they’re trying to tell seems just out of reach? Fret not. Within the digital canvas, the power struggle between charts and tables plays out, each vying to turn that data into a clear narrative.

Imagine, for a moment, a maze of information – daunting, sure. But here’s the kicker – one of our tools, unassuming yet bold, can light the way, slicing through chaos with the finesse of a seasoned guide.

It’s a choice: the crisp precision of tables where structure reigns supreme, or the vivid allure of charts, beckoning with their siren song of visual impact.

That’s our arena.

This article isn’t just a mere comparison; it’s about revealing pathways to data clarity and presentation excellence.

By the end, a promise: grip on visualization techniques so strong, data will bend to your whim, weaving stories that captivate and inform.

Dive into the visual analytics realm – it’s much more than meets the eye.

Expect to unlock actionable insights on when and how to deploy these mighty contenders for ultimate data comprehension. Let’s decode this visual narrative, shall we?

Charts Vs Tables

Aspect Charts Tables
Visual Form Graphical; represent data visually as bar graph, line chart, etc. Text and numbers organized in rows and columns.
Data Volume Effective for summarizing large amounts of data. Can display large volumes of data in a compact form.
Complexity Can illustrate complex relationships through visuals. Can become complex if there is too much data or too many details.
Analysis Good for identifying patterns, trends, and relationships. Good for precise, detailed analysis and comparisons.
Accessibility Quick to interpret for an overview & general trends. Requires more time and attention to understand details.
User-friendly More engaging and easier for a general audience. Better suited for users familiar with the subject or dataset.
Detail May lack specific details or exact values. Provides specific numerical values and detailed information.
Specificity May require further explanation or a table for exact figures. Exact figures are given and clearly defined.
Comparison Visual cues make comparisons straightforward. Side-by-side comparison requires more cognitive effort.
Usage Context Ideal for presentations and reports where visual impact is key. Ideal for academic, scientific, or detailed financial analysis.
Customization Colors, styles, and elements can enhance comprehension. Formatting such as shading and borders can aid organization.
Interpretation Can be subject to misinterpretation due to scaling or design. Less prone to misinterpretation as values are explicit.
Space Can take more space compared to tables or be unclear if shrunk. Can be very space-efficient but may become crowded.
Data Type More suitable for quantitative data and sometimes qualitative. Suitable for both quantitative and qualitative data.
Time Series Excellent for showing changes over time. Can show time series, but typically less intuitive than charts.

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?.

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.

When to use Tables?

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

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 Best Scenarios For Tables

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

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.

Audience

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?

Insights

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

When Should I Use a Chart Over a Table?

We look for the storytelling angle of data, and that’s where a chart shines, illuminating trends and relationships with a glance. Boiled down, if your data’s got some drama, some ups and downs you want to show off – pitch a chart. It’s all about that visual impact.

How Can a Table be More Effective than a Chart?

Tables strut their stuff when detail matters. They’re your go-to when precision is key, serving up numbers on a silver platter. Think of it as making every data point accessible, giving the down-and-dirty detail where every fraction counts.

For trends, timelines are gold mines. Line charts step in, effortlessly mapping progress or decline over the tick-tock of time. They’re like temporal storytellers, weaving a tale as data dances across dates.

Are Tables Best for Comparing Quantitative Data?

Numero on numero, it’s tables for the win. They lay it out bare, side by side, making comparisons a cakewalk. When you’ve got figures to face-off, tables turn it into a no-sweat situation – inviting quick scans and precise analysis.

How Can I Decide Between Pie Charts and Bar Graphs?

Pie charts or bar graphs? Mood sets the scene here. When you need a slice of the whole, a piece of that 100% pie, that’s your cue for pie charts. For the rest – rankings, variations across categories – bar graphs step up.

In What Scenarios is a Table More Suitable than Any Type of Chart?

Data’s calling card is sometimes all about the nitty-gritty. Diving deep into that, with no frills? Tables. They’re not here to dazzle; they’re workhorses, built to deliver specifics to those who need ’em, sans the interpretative dance.

Can Charts Misrepresent Data Easier than Tables?

Charts wield power – they persuade, influence. But with great power comes great responsibility, right? Misread scales or creative liberties can skew perceptions. Tables? They lay it out plain, no razzle-dazzle, less room for visualization missteps.

When Might a Line Graph Be Preferred Over a Bar Chart?

Velocity! When change is the name of the game, and it’s all about tracking that sweet, sweet momentum over time, line graphs take the spotlight. They link the dots of data points, crafting a cohesive stream of up, down, and over.

Is Tabular Data Easier to Analyze Than Chart Data?

Raw analysis? It’s the domain where tables don’t just walk; they strut. They don’t play hide and seek with digits. Instead, they stage numbers upfront, inviting the kind of stare-down that cracks open trends – if you’re into the number-crunching tango.

What Are Best Practices for Creating Effective Charts and Tables?

Crafting charts vs tables? It’s an art. Keep it clean, folks. Respect the whitespace, let your data breathe. Opt for clarity over clutter, precision over pizzazz. Lean on labels and legends, but don’t let ’em suffocate the story. Serve your insights on a platter that lets your audience feast effortlessly.

Conclusion

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.


Milan Jovanovic
Milan Jovanovic

Product Lead

Articles: 212