Choosing the Appropriate Chart

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Factors that influence the choice of chart

Lots of people always asked this question, “how do I know the chart to use when I’m given a specific dataset?“Just as an architect doesn’t just start a design for the fun of it, you also don’t just jump into designing a visualisation. You must have a goal in mind, a dataset at hand and a targeted audience.

1. The data available determines the insights that can be generated from the data. To get insights from data, watch out for:

  • Patterns and trends: How does your data change over time? Are these changes connected to policy decisions or other events?
  • Similarities, contrast and outliers: 
  • Interesting or unusual exceptions: What are the individual values that fall outside the norm? What might explain these exceptions?

2. Your goal: Every writer has a goal, either to inform the public about something or to educate the public or even to influence policymakers. For example, are you interested in informing the public about the existence of a particular variable in your data, or the increase or decrease of a variable in your data? Take a look at the following suggested goals and charts to use.

  • To show a trend( a change in one variable over a given time) – Use line graph
  • Comparison of categorical variables – Use bar charts. E.g comparison of the financial budget of five agencies.
  • Components or parts of a whole- use pie charts. E.g Comparison of financial budget of an agency, how she plans to spend or earn in a year. 
  • Distribution of a single continuous variable – Use histogram. E.g the distribution of the ages of persons who died of Covid-19
  • Age and sex distribution of a population – use population pyramid
  • etc

3. The targeted audience of your story informs areas to focus on and therefore informs what to visualize. Your audience could be:

  • policymakers
  • government
  • the populace – to inform them
  • researchers

So, your target audience is also a factor that influences the choice of visualization.

Factors that influences choice of chart- Summary

Here is a summary design of factors that you should consider in your choice of chart. Although many other custom charts are not covered here, an understanding of this design will be very helpful. Study it carefully.

Knowledge Check! (Choosing the appropriate chart)