Which Chart Should I Use?

With so many ways to visualize data, do you ever wonder which chart you should be using to showcase your information? If you’ve had trouble with this, you’re not alone. Sometimes it’s difficult to know if you should be using a pie chart, a line graph, a map, or something else. Even the big, “reputable” companies blow this sometimes, as can be seen by NBC Nightly News’ racially insensitive infographic where a map was used to show a timeline (wrong choice, BTW).

Here’s a handy little guide to help you out. Essentially, you want to ask yourself five questions:

  • Does my data hightlight just one important fact?
  • Am I trying to compare two or more things?
  • Am I showing the results of a questionnaire?
  • Am I showing how parts of something relate to a whole?
  • Do I need to show how one data set changes when affected by another data set?

If you can answer “yes” to any of those questions, you can quickly narrow down the type of chart that will be best to use. Do note, however, that you can often use more than one type of visualization to highlight information and this chart doesn’t cover all the possibilities–just the 25 most common ways to visualize data.