When using numbers and statistical data it is pertinent to have a visual to bring meaning to it. Data is rendered useless if no one understands the meaning behind it. Charts and graphs help to bring the data to life. And they are practical for individual use as well as for businesses.
There are several different types of charts and graphs. Common ones include pie charts, line graphs, histograms, bar graphs, and Venn diagrams. However, each of these is useful for very different things.
With such a variety to choose from, it can be challenging to decide which to use for a specific set of data. How can you decide which is the best type of chart or graph to use?
What are Charts and Graphs?
The collection of data is important and vital for many aspects of life. Graphs and charts present data with visual cues to help readers understand it at a glance. They convey what the data means. Armed with an accurate understanding of the information, readers can take proper action.
Graphs and charts organize, compare, and highlight important aspects or trends. They also help others remember the data in ways words and numbers never could. But charts and graphs are not one and the same. Each is useful in its own way to display different types of data. Displaying data effectively is especially important when creating reports and online dashboards or forecast models.
Deciding which chart or graph to use to display data depends on the end goal. What is the key point readers should learn from this data? After deciding what the purpose of the data is, it is easier to choose the chart or graph that will be most effective.
What is the Difference Between Charts and Graphs?
Many people use the words “chart” and “graph” interchangeably. Both charts and graphs display data in a clear and concise way and help others to understand it. But charts and graphs have different uses and purposes.
A graph is a mathematical diagram. It displays any relationship or connection there might be between numerical data. The data displayed in graphs are represented by lines, dots, and curves. Graphs are often used to display long term trends.
A chart is a picture, diagram, or table that organizes a large amount of data. In general, charts are used to display current data and to make decisions or predictions.
Different Types of Graphs
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A bar graph is a simple but effective graph for displaying numerical data. This graph is useful in comparing different categories to each other. A bar graph consists of an x-axis, a y-axis, and bars of varying lengths.
Most often the x-axis list the categories and the y-axis lists the numbers. It is also possible to list the numbers on the x-axis and the categories on the y-axis. This will not affect the data in any way.
In a bar graph, a series of bars display the numerical value of the categories. The length of the bars is proportionate to the value it represents. The categories are independent of each other. Any changes in one category would not affect the others.
As an example, this graph could be used to display how many tourists visit a landmark each month. The months of the year would appear on the x-axis and numbers on the y-axis. A bar would depict the number of visitors that correspond to each month. The bars can be of the same color or different colors.
Different colored bars can add more information to the graph. With the example above, different colored bars could represent different years. This would create a more comprehensive graph that reveals long-time trends.
Bar graphs are a powerful tool to present data in a visual way. At a glance, audiences can perceive and understand the data. These types of graphs are especially held in high esteem in the marketing industry.
A histogram displays the distribution of numerical data. It is similar to a bar graph but has important differences. For example, the bars of data in a histogram are not separated with a gap. Also, in general, histograms depict ranges instead of categories.
Histograms are often used to show statistics. There are different types of histogram graphs that result in different shapes. These include:
This type of histogram graph usually is in the shape of a bell
This is also known as double-peaked distribution. This shape results from two processes displayed in one set of data.
This type of graph is asymmetrical with an off-center peak.
This is also called multimodal or plateau distribution. Multiple peaks result from the data of several processes.
Edge peak distribution
This type of histogram looks similar to the normal distribution but has a large peak at one end.
In comb distribution, the bars alternate from tall to short. The resulting structure looks like a comb.
A pictograph is a visually appealing graph. It represents numerical data with images or icons. The images relate to the data and represent a number. For example, a pictograph might use smiley faces to depict data on happy employees.
Pictographs are simple to create and read. They present data in a visual way enabling audiences to capture the main point right away. The disadvantage of a pictograph is that it provides a general representation. Other graphs better display numbers and data in a precise manner.
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A line graph shows how data has changed over a period of time. It consists of an x-axis, a y-axis, marker dots, and lines connecting the dots. These types of graphs are common and used in many fields. They are basic and easy to create.
A line graph is an effective tool to display trends in related data. The lines connecting the dots create a helpful visual to see any increase or decrease in the data. Using different colored lines is an effective way to compare multiple trends. In general, one axis represents a variable value and the other a timeline.
For example, a line graph can display average temperatures in each month of the year. One axis would display the variable number of temperatures. The other axis would display the months of the year. The data is then plotted on the chart. And the line that connects the dots visualizes the trend of temperatures.
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Area graphs show trends, patterns, and quantitative data. For example, it can show the sales revenue of different products. The purpose of area graphs is to display two or more quantities.
The area graph is based on the line graph. It uses the same concept but uses color to emphasize the data. Filling the space between the x-axis and the plotted line with a color indicates the volume. Different colors represent each quantity. This helps readers understand and visualize the data better.
Venn diagrams show relations between different sets of data. Each set of data is represented by a circle. The circles have a small overlapping section. This section of the circle displays the characteristics that the data have in common. The outer section of the circle displays the dissimilar traits.
These types of graphs are useful in comparing similarities and differences. Venn Diagrams are useful in a wide range of fields. For example, in mathematics, Venn diagrams divide numbers into groups. They are also used in science to make comparisons of objects.
A heatmap is a grid that visualizes data with colors. The variables of the axes can be categories or numbers. This graph displays values with different colors. In general, the colors are of contrasting hue or intensity where darker colors denote higher values. This provides obvious visual cues to the reader.
A pyramid graph is a graph in the shape of a pyramid or triangle. The pyramid shape is divided into horizontal sections. This type of graph is best to display data in a hierarchical way. Each section indicates a progressive order. The base of the pyramid displays items that are more numerous.
For example, the base of the food pyramid displays rice and bread. This indicates to readers that they should be eating more servings of these foods. The top of the pyramid graph displays items of less quantity or importance. In the food pyramid, the top section of the graph displays oils and fats. This suggests that readers consume those food items sparingly.
Used by mathematicians, Cartesian graphs are especially useful in algebra and geometry. They are also used in fields such as astronomy, physics, and engineering.
Cartesian graphs have an x-axis and y-axis that are perpendicular to each other. It has four quadrants. Where the x and y axes meet represents the number zero. Numbers to the right of the zero on the x-axis are positive and numbers to the left are negative.
On the y-axis, the numbers above the x-axis are positive and the numbers below are negative. Points are plotted using cartesian coordinates. The first number of cartesian coordinates always applies to the x-axis and the second number applies to the y-axis.
A dot plot is a simple graph that visualizes statistical data. Dot plots have a horizontal line that lists quantities. Dots are plotted on the line to organize statistics. Dots are stacked on top of each other to display the same value more than once.
These types of graphs are for small or medium sets of data. It is useful for univariate data which means it has one measurable variable. For example, dot plots can show the number of siblings students in a class have.
Box Plot or Box and Whiskers
A box plot graph is also known as a box and whiskers graph. These types of graphs display groups of data through their quartiles. The whiskers are the lines that extend from the boxes. They indicate variability outside the lower and upper quartiles.
Outliers, or data that is outside the whiskers, are plotted with a dot. Box plots can be horizontal or vertical. The information a reader can gather from a box plot includes the following:
- The key values like the 25th percentile
- The outliers and their values
- If the data is symmetrical
- How tightly the data is grouped
- If the data is skewed and in what direction
Organizational graphs are diagrams that convey the internal structure of a company. It depicts the relationships and ranks of the positions in a company. It also displays connections between different departments. It can display the structure of the entire company or one department.
There are three main formats of an organizational graph. They are hierarchical, flat, and matrix.
The purpose of organizational graphs is to ensure that employees understand their responsibilities and who they are to report to. The lines on the graph show the flow of authority and relationships between positions. The graph also displays lateral relationships between departments or positions.
Different Types of Charts
Dual Axis Chart
A dual-axis chart has two y-axes and a shared x-axis. It also uses a combination of bars and lines to plot the data. This chart is useful for comparing two different sets of data, allowing readers to see trends. With this chart, a large amount of data fits in a limited space.
These types of charts help readers visualize any correlation between the data. For example, it’s possible to display both the average monthly temperature and rainfall on a dual-axis chart. Bars can display the inches of rainfall listed in the first y-axis. Average temperatures can be plotted with dots and a line according to the second y-axis. And the x-axis can list the months of the year for both sets of data.
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Pie charts are very effective for displaying parts of a whole. A pie chart is a circle that divides data into different sections like slices of a pie. The size of each section is proportional to the quantity it represents.
These types of charts display percentages or proportions for six categories or fewer. Pie charts are useful for comparing budget dispensation, market research, market segments, and more.
Though pie charts are simple it is possible to employ more complex formats. These forms can display more information for the reader. Types of pie charts include:
- Basic pie chart
- 3D pie chart
- Pie of pie
This is a smaller circle next to the pie chart that adds details about one of the portions
- Bar of pie
This adds details about one portion of the pie chart in the shape of a bar
- Exploded pie chart
An exploded pie chart has one or more of the portions separated from the rest to emphasize that section
A flow chart is a diagram that displays workflows or processes. These types of charts have a wide variety of uses. Flowcharts show how to complete a task by conveying each step that needs to be taken. They also display complex situations to help guide readers to a decision. They display different paths available during a process and the probable outcome.
Flowcharts consist of shapes, lines, and arrows. The shapes are different to illustrate different parts of the process. For example, often an oval represents the beginning and end of a process. A diamond represents a decision. Lines and arrows connect the shapes and show the order of the process.
Spline charts are one of the most widespread types of charts. They are the same as line graphs except for one major difference. Line graphs connect the data markers with straight lines and spline charts use curved lines. These types of charts are best used to display trends that require curved lines. For example, an impulse response chart or a product life cycle chart.
Gantt charts were created by Henry Gantt around 1910-1915. These types of charts are popular in planning projects of all sizes. Gantt charts are especially useful in organizing the schedule of complex projects. It highlights which tasks to complete first and how long they will take. This helps project managers to complete a project in an organized and effective way.
Gantt charts consist of a horizontal axis with the timeframe of the project. This timeline can be in days, weeks, months, or years. Bars represent each task of the project. The length of the bar is determined by the start and finish date corresponding to the timeline. The vertical axis identifies the project tasks. The Gantt chart helps project managers monitor each task and bring them to completion.
Scatter Plot Chart
Scatter plot charts use cartesian coordinates to plot data between two variables. They are the best types of charts to use when there is a large amount of data. Because it plots a lot of data, this chart is useful in highlighting patterns and similarities in the data distribution. It also helps readers identify outliers.
A scatter plot consists of many distinct data points on a chart. When there is a large amount of data the markers can look clumped together. But this chart can be enhanced with trend lines or cluster analysis.
Bubble charts represent data with three variables. They are similar to scatter plot charts but include a third variable of data that can prove to be valuable. They consist of an x-axis, y-axis, and bubbles or disks as data markers. The x and y axes represent two of the variables and determine the location of the bubble. The third variable is represented by the size of the bubble.
Box And Whisker Chart
These types of charts are also known as box plots. They display the frequency distribution of numerical data through their quartiles. Lines extending from the boxes indicate variability outside the upper and lower quartiles. Box and whisker charts display if data is skewed.
They display the range of the data with the maximum and minimum quartiles. They also display the spread of the data with the upper and lower quartiles. And last but not least, they show the center of the data with the median quartiles.
Treemaps visualize different segments of data compared to the whole. Treemaps are divided by tree branches represented with rectangles. Smaller rectangles represent sub-branches. These types of charts make efficient use of the space to convey much information. Because of this, colors are often added to help readers distinguish the data.
A treemap is useful for when a company has multiple divisions and each division has its own products. The treemap displays how each division affects the total revenue. It also displays the contribution of each product to the revenue under the multiple divisions.
A mekko chart is also known as a marimekko chart. This is a stacked chart with varying lengths of column height but also column width. This chart separates a company by segment, product, or customer. It then compares the values, composition, and distribution of the data. Strategy consultants often use mekko charts to combine data from other charts.
Waterfall or Bridge Chart
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A waterfall chart, also called a bridge chart, shows the cumulative effect of positive and negative values. These types of charts visualize the difference between the start and finish of a period of time. A bridge chart starts with an initial value at the beginning of a period. It then displays positive and negative values that impact the initial value and result in a final value.
These values can be time based or category based. Often colors differentiate between start, end, positive and negative figures. A bridge chart is useful for displaying how departments affect the revenue of a company.
Gauge charts use colors and needles to depict data. For this reason, they are also known as speedometer charts or dial charts. These charts are best for displaying a single value and are common in information dashboards. They provide easy visual cues for readers to understand the data in an instant.
To create a gauge chart, first assign a minimum and maximum value. Colors indicate the high and low sides of those values. And a needle points to the current value on the chart.
Radar or Spider Chart
A radar chart displays three or more variables with axes starting from the same point. It looks similar to a spider web thus the name spider chart. This chart is useful in making multiple comparisons of sets of data.
There are many uses for radar charts in fields such as business, mathematics, sports, and more. For example, a radar chart can display how smartphones compare to each other in price, durability, and appearance.
Funnel charts convey the sequential stages of processes in the workplace. The first stage is larger and at the top of the funnel. The last stage is the smallest and is at the bottom of the funnel. The shape of the funnel provides visual cues as to the health of the process. Funnel charts are often used to track customers in a pipeline flow of businesses.
FAQ about types of charts
What’s the difference between a bar chart and a column chart?
Oh, that’s a classic question! So, a bar chart displays data using horizontal bars, while a column chart uses vertical bars. Both of them represent data in a way that allows easy comparison of values across categories.
The main difference is simply the orientation of the bars. You might choose one over the other based on readability or the nature of the data you’re working with.
How do I choose the right type of chart for my data?
Great question! The key is to consider your data and your goal. If you need to compare values, go for bar or column charts. For showing trends over time, line charts are perfect.
Pie charts are great for visualizing parts of a whole. Scatter plots help identify relationships between variables. Just remember, always keep your audience in mind and choose a chart that makes it easy for them to understand the information you’re presenting.
When should I use a pie chart?
Pie charts are excellent when you want to show the proportions of different categories within a whole. They’re most effective when you have a limited number of categories (ideally less than six) and when the differences between those categories are clear.
If the data is more complex, a pie chart might not be the best choice. Stick to simpler data sets for maximum impact.
Can you explain what a line chart is?
Of course! A line chart is a type of chart that displays data points connected by lines. This chart is fantastic for showing trends or changes over time, as it clearly visualizes the progression of data points.
Line charts are commonly used in finance, economics, and any field where tracking data over time is important. They help people identify patterns, trends, and potential future developments.
What is a scatter plot?
A scatter plot is a chart that displays two variables as points on a two-dimensional plane. By plotting these points, you can identify potential relationships or correlations between the variables.
If the points on the scatter plot form a pattern, it may indicate a relationship between the two variables being examined. Scatter plots are often used in fields like science, economics, and medicine to analyze and visualize data.
Why would I use a histogram?
Histograms are fantastic for showing the distribution of continuous data. They’re essentially a type of bar chart, but instead of representing individual categories, they show the frequency of data points within specific intervals or bins.
Histograms can help you identify patterns like central tendency, skewness, or outliers in your data. They’re often used in statistics, research, and data analysis.
How do I create a stacked bar chart?
Stacked bar charts are perfect for displaying the composition of different categories across multiple data series. To create one, simply divide each bar in the chart into segments that represent the proportions of the various subcategories.
This way, you can easily compare the total size of each bar while also seeing the breakdown of the different parts that make up that total. It’s a powerful way to visualize complex data.
What’s a radar chart and when should I use it?
Radar charts are unique in that they display data on multiple axes that radiate from a central point. Each axis represents a different variable or category. The data points are connected to form a polygon, giving you a visual representation of the values across all categories.
Radar charts are especially useful when comparing multiple items across various dimensions or when you want to highlight strengths and weaknesses of different options.
How do I decide on the right scale for my chart?
Picking the right scale for your chart is crucial for accurate data representation. First, consider the range of your data and the level of detail you want to show.
Choose a scale that includes the entire data range, but also ensures that the differences between data points are clear. You might use a linear or logarithmic scale depending on the distribution and nature of your data.
Always aim for a scale that makes it easy for your audience to understand and interpret the information you’re presenting.
What is a waterfall chart and when should I use it?
Waterfall charts are fantastic for visualizing the cumulative effect of sequential events or values. They’re often used in finance to show how a starting value is affected by a series of positive and negative changes.
In a waterfall chart, each bar represents an increase or decrease in value, with the end of one bar connected to the beginning of the next.
This creates a “waterfall” effect that helps people see how each change contributes to the final result. Use a waterfall chart when you want to emphasize the impact of various factors on a starting value or to display the progression of a value over time.
Ending thoughts on the different types of charts and graphs
Charts and graphs display data in a visual way. They help readers understand the data in an instant and guide decision making. It’s important to use the right type of graph or chart in order to provide an accurate understanding of data. Choosing which type of chart or graph can be challenging.
The decision depends on the type of data and the conclusion readers should draw from the graph. Before deciding which type of graph to use, think about these factors:
- What type of variables, metrics, and categories need to be plotted?
- Who is the audience?
- What conclusion should the audience draw from this graph?
This article discussed different types of charts and graphs and their possible applications. Using these types of charts and graphs will make data understandable and effective. Analyze your data and choose which type of graph is best for you.
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If you liked this article about types of charts, you should check out this article about embedding a chart.