Chart

A chart is a visual presentation of data. A chart can convey what is usually a table with rows of numbers in a picture. This allows the viewer to quickly grasp comparisons and trends more easily than looking at the raw data.

Common Data Chart Types

Some of the most common types of data charts include:

Bar Graph

A bar chart (also known as a bar graph) shows the differences between categories or trends over time using the length or height of its bars. The may be shown using vertical or horizontal bars. Bar graphs have two axes. One axis shows categories, while the other a range of values. Categories are qualitative groups such types of companies, months of the year, products, and so forth. A bar will represent each category and there's usually a space between each bar.

There are two more complex variations of the standard bar graph: a stacked bar chart and a clustered or grouped bar chart.

Stacked Bar Chart or Relative Value Chart

A stacked bar chart allows you represent more complex relationships between data sets. A stacked bar will let you place one or more sub-categories inside a bar while still showing the total. Obviously stacking implies that the subcategories represent a part of the whole. For example, let's say you wanted to compare student enrollment growth at a particular college in the last decade but wanted to distinguish between male and female students.

Stacked bar chart

Clustered Bar Chart

Clustered or grouped bar charts are similar to stacked bar graphs in that they let you show subcategories in addition to regular categories on your chart. When the bars you want to group are only loosely related, you will definitely want to use a clustered representation. Clustered bar graphs are also useful when you have more than 3 subcategories that are part of a whole. If you tried to stack 4 or 6 categories, your graph would be a lot of harder to understand because of all the visual noise.

Cluttered bar chart

Histogram

A histogram is similar in appearance to a bar chart, but instead of comparing categories or looking for trends over time, each bar represents how data is distributed in a single category. Each bar represents a continuous range of data or the number of frequencies for a specific data point. The histogram example below shows the distribution of test scores in a class. We can see at a glance that the distribution follows a traditional bell curve.

Histogram example

Line Graph

A line chart (also known as a line graph) plots a series of data points on a graph and connects them with lines. A line chart is particularly useful when showing trend lines with subtle differences, or with data lines that cross one another as shown in the example below.

Line Graph

Pie Chart

A pie chart is a graphic that shows the breakdown of items in a set as percentages by presenting them as slices of a pie. The key to a pie chart is that all of the slices must equal 100%.

Pie Chart Example

Area Charts

An area chart functions similarly to a line chart, but with the areas below the lines filled in. This can make the trends easier to see than in a traditional line chart. It works well for showing an increasing trend line over time, such as in the example below, where each succeeding time period reflects a higher price in each corresponding month.

Area Chart Example

If the lines cross, then a line chart is a better choice.

How to Create a Chart with SmartDraw

SmartDraw allows you to create charts and graphs without having to make a spreadsheet first. Simply pick a chart and type your data directly into the bars or pie slices. You can even drag the bars or the dividers in the pie chart to represent the right values.

If you want to, you can also import the data directly from Excel®.

Watch this short video for a quick overview on creating charts and graphs with SmartDraw.

Read the white paper on creating more convincing, impactful charts.