A guide to the different types of charts and graphs

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 8 September 2022

Published 30 November 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Visual representations of data, like charts and graphs, help us to understand data quickly. There are numerous types of graphs and charts, and people commonly use them for business purposes. It is important to choose the right type of chart or graph for your business so that you can display your information most effectively. In this article, we explain several types of charts and graphs and their various uses.

What are charts and graphs?

When working with datasets, using visualisations through charts and graphs is integral to creating a readable and apprehensible summary of information. People often use graphs and charts to highlight trends, demonstrate sales figures and show relationships between sets of data. Showing an effectively designed chart or graph can allow you to present data with great clarity, potentially allowing for better efficiency in your work. The chart or graph you choose often depends on the key points that you want others to learn from your data.

Related: What is quantitative analysis? (with definitions and examples)

Graphs vs. charts: What's the difference?

Graphs and charts provide the same general purpose of presenting data for further exploration, but some types are better suited for displaying your dataset than others. Charts are tables, diagrams or pictures that organisation data into an understandable and readable visual summary. A graph is a mathematical diagram that presents the relationship between two or more sets of numerical data.

Different types of graphs

You can choose from many types of graphs to display data, including:

Line graph

Line graphs illustrate information that changes over a specific period. They use a straight line to connect the different data points that you plot. One axis might display a value, while the other displays a timeline. Line graphs are useful for presenting changes such as the relationship between price and supply or temperature changes during certain dates.

Related: A guide to reading graphs: steps, types and their uses

Bar graph

A bar graph consists of spaced rectangular bars that display multiple data points. They are normally used to present numeric values of any size, such as inventories, group sizes and financial predictions. You can display bar charts with vertical columns or horizontal bars, comparative bars (multiple bars to show a comparison between values), or stack bars (bars containing multiple types of information).

One axis represents any variable, such as time, or the category being measured, and the other axis represents the value of each category. Marketing companies often use bar graphs to present ratings and survey responses. They are also commonly used in financial analysis for displaying data.

Pictograph

Instead of using an axis with numbers to display data, a pictograph uses symbols or pictures to represent a certain number of items. Pictographs are a highly visual type of presentation, making them useful for turning simple data into a visually interesting and more engaging presentation. An example of a pictograph is their common use of representing ratings through the symbol of a star.

Related: How to take your presentation skills to the next level

Histogram

A histogram is similar to a bar graph in that it groups a series of data points into specified ranges. In doing so, a histogram condenses data into readable and understandable visuals. You can use them for illustrating statistics to represent how many of a certain type of variable occurs within a specific range. For example, a histogram might demonstrate how many people are between the ages of 0-10, 10-20, 20-30 and so on.

Related: Bar charts vs. histograms: benefits and when to use them

Area graph

An area graph is a specialised type of line graph that shows a change in one or more values over a specified period. Unlike a line graph which connects data points with one simple line, an area graph involves filling in the region below that line with a certain colour or texture. This helps in visually representing how values develop over time, particularly when there are large differences between your values and multiple values over time.

They are commonly used to display the development of quantitative values over a period of time, such as trends and patterns. For example, a retailer may use an area graph to record the different profits generated by a chain of grocery stores over the same timeframe.

Related: What is an S-curve graph when project managers use it?

Scatter plot

A scatter plot uses dots to represent the relationship between two different numeric variables. They do this by presenting the values of the individual data points to exhibit arising patterns from the data as a whole. You may use a scatter plot to determine the relationship between square footage and the price of homes.

The process of creating one includes plotting one variable along the horizontal axis and the other along the vertical axis. For each pair of data, put a dot where the horizontal axis intersects with the vertical axis. The resulting scatter plot represents the relationship between the two variables. If there is no correlation, the dots appear at random points across the graph. If there is a strong correlation, the dots are close together and can form a line through the graph.

Related: Definition of graphs, their uses and the different types

Different types of charts

There are several types of charts that you can use to present your data:

Flowchart

A flowchart is a graphical or symbolic representation of a process' separate steps in sequential order. A different symbol represents each step in the process, connected by arrows to show their order. They help visualise complex processes to aid quicker understanding. For example, you could use a flowchart to visualise algorithms to show their summation process.

Related: A guide to flowchart symbols (meaning, types and examples)

Pie chart

A pie chart displays smaller amounts of numerical data and is made up of different sections that are proportional to the data they represent. The name derives from its circular shape and how each section is made up of many pieces like a pie cut into slices. Each section is typically labelled to represent its value compared to the whole.

Pie charts are useful in a business environment because they summarise data in an appealing, clear and concise manner. They are also quite simple compared to other types of bars and charts. Professionals may use pie charts in business presentations to present percentages of types of customers, percentage of revenue from different products or profits from different countries.

Gantt chart

A Gantt chart is a bar chart that depicts a visual of projects and tasks scheduled over time. People use them to assist with the planning and scheduling of tasks, and they are particularly useful for condensing complex tasks. The horizontal axis represents the project timeline in days, weeks, months or years while the vertical axis shows the tasks to complete.

Along with showing the start and end date for a task, the bar chart can also show dependencies, scheduling, deadlines, how much of the task has been completed and who the task owner is. Professionals may use Gantt charts to establish the initial project schedule, monitor and report progress to stay on schedule and for tracking the completion status of each project.

Related: What is a gantt chart? Definition, types, guidelines and uses

Waterfall chart

A waterfall chart is a specialised chart that shows a running total as you add or subtract values. They illustrate how positive or negative values in a data series contribute to the total. This essentially means that they help in visualising a starting value, the positive and negative changes made to that value and the resulting end value. They are common in corporate and financial environments, for example, people may use waterfall charts to visualise profit and loss statements or show product value over a period of time.

Gauge chart

You can use a gauge chart to display a single, quantitative data value. Its shape resembles a speedometer, with data being represented as a reading on a dial. It uses a needle to point at a certain value within a scale. Gauge charts have the advantage of being user-friendly and easy to interpret as they often use various colours to divide a scale into segments. You could use this chart in a professional environment to map sales targets or sales growth. They are also often used to illustrate speed and temperatures.

Related: What is a burndown chart? (And how to use it)

Funnel chart

Funnel charts demonstrate the progression of data as it passes through different stages. They often illustrate stages in a process that are linear, connected and sequential. The first stage in the process often has the highest number of participants, meaning the chart is normally widest at the top and narrowest at the bottom. Sales and marketing professionals often use funnel charts for functions such as tracking a sales process or for representing web traffic.

Bullet chart

Bullet charts are a variation of the bar chart and consist of a line that shows the target value, a centre bar showing the actual value and coloured regions in the background that provide qualitative measurements, like excellent, satisfactory, and poor. Some bullet charts, such as those that represent profits, have high targets, while others may have low targets, such as those that depict expenses. They can help with assessing the efficiency of a specific goal or target. These charts carry the advantage of being able to contain a large amount of complex information within a small amount of space.

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