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Selecting Data Visualization Types

Selecting Data Visualization Types

Guide to Selecting Visualization Types

  • For numerical data, use a histogram, frequency polygon, or cumulative distribution chart.
  • For category-based data, use a bar chart, tree-map, or heat map.
  • For unstructured data, use a word cloud.
  • For displaying relationships between two variables, use a scatter plot.
  • For displaying relationships among more than two variables, use a scatter plot matrix or heat map.
  • For displaying numerical data distributions, use a histogram, frequency polygon, or cumulative distribution chart.
  • For displaying categorical data, use a bar chart, tree-map, or heat map.
  • To draw a comparison over time, use a line chart for two variables and a bubble line chart for three variables.
  • For drawing a comparison among categories, use a bar chart, tree-map, or heat map.

Common Pitfalls

The following are the four common pitfalls that we should avoid while using charts and graphs:

  • Selecting the wrong chart type will lead to inaccurate interpretation of data.
  • Selectively plotting data could prove an inaccurate relationship.
  • Data plotted in a truncated graph, e.g., having a y-axis that does not start at zero, could inaccurately show significant differences when there is really just a small difference.
  • Scaling the axes incorrectly, such as setting a maximum that is higher than necessary on the y-axis, can result in a graph that appears less steep and less volatile.


Which of the following graphs is the most appropriate to use for plotting stock price change over a five-year period?

  1. Line chart.
  2. Bubble line chart.
  3. Frequency polygon.


The correct answer is A.

A line chart is used to display the change of data series over time.

B is incorrect. In a bubble line chart, data points are represented by bubbles of varying sizes. The bubbles represent a third dimension of the data.

C is incorrect. The frequency polygon and the cumulative frequency distribution chart are also line charts, but they represent data frequency distributions. 

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