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severalog

Bar none

J. Harry Caufield

"Kick the bar chart habit", they say. "Use box plots instead and you can show a distribution of your data points", they claim. They're right, of course. I suspect that most people, whether they're scientists or just members of the 24-hour-TV-news audience (there's some overlap between the two groups, of course) prefer bar charts because they're so straightforward. Higher bars are greater in value. What could be easier?

Besides scientific papers and TV news, the biggest influence on chart type is likely Excel. Hell, the newer versions let users create tiny, almost-unreadable sparkline bar charts. The only worse option may be pie charts. My introductory statistics professor was always wary of using the wrong chart at the wrong time, but he constantly warned us that there was never a right time for a pie chart. I'm usually inclined to agree.

So, bottom line: avoid using the default chart options in Excel and/or chart types which sound like desserts.