5 steps to choose the best chart to tell your story

At least once per month you need to do a presentation or a report explaining your numbers. One of the struggles is understanding what type of chart you should use to convey your message. We’ll share with you how to choose the right visualization in 5 steps.

1 – Understand your data

The first step is understanding your data. What kind of information can you extract from it? What type of data do you have? Is it quantitative (revenue, cost, number of clients), categorical (industry, state) or ordinal (ratings and scales)?

This will help you decide what analysis you can do and will become the base of your story.


2 – Know your audience

Presenting results to your VP Sales it’s different from talking with the Business Intelligence Manager. They have different needs and goals. It’s crucial you adjust your data-based story to the audience.

A Harvard Business Review article titled “How to Tell a Story with Data,” identified five different audiences: novice (never heard about the topic), generalist (want an overview on the theme), management (prefer in-depth and actionable insights), expert (focus on data exploration and less on the story) and executive (is focused on conclusions taken from the data).

Knowing your type of audience allows you to adapt the level of complexity of the information you are showing and boost audience engagement.


3 – Identify the question

By now you already know who is your audience and what data you have. The next step to choose the right chart is understanding what is the story you are trying to tell. Your answer will probably fit into one of these four categories. You either want to show a relationship between data, a comparison, a composition or distribution.

Why is this important? Not all types of charts will suit your message. For instant, a bar or a line chart would be better to show comparison, while a scatter plot or a matrix would be perfect to show distribution or relationship between data. A pie chart or a stacked bar chart would be the perfect pick to explain composition.


4 – Choose the right visuals

Last but not the least. Each chart can help you communicate a specific message. Here we covered the most popular ones and how you should be using them.

Bar chart

As we said before it is perfect for comparisons because you can quickly understand highs and lows. “Sales by salesman” and “Opportunities by salesman” are two examples of a perfect match for this kind of chart.

Bar Chart - Wizdee


Line chart

It helps you perceive progress over time, making it perfect to identify trends. Here are some examples of queries that would perform well in a line chart: “sales by month in 2015”, “website page views during a month” or “revenue by quarter”.

Line Chart - Wizdee


Stacked Bar chart

A stacked bar helps you compare different items and shows you the composition of each item being compared. This type of chart is useful to visualize queries like “Sales by month by product” or “opportunities by stage by sales rep”.

Stacked Bar Chart - Wizdee


Pie chart

The pie chart is frequently misused and is probably the most hated one. It should only be an option when trying to show how categories represent part of a whole.  Here are some queries that can be displayed in a pie: “Sales by product” or “Activities by sales rep”.

Pie Chart - Wizdee


Scatter Plot chart

A scatter chart can help you visualize two things: relationships between two different variables or the distribution of your data. Here are two examples of when to use a Scatter Plot: “Sales by opportunities probability” and “sales amount by client last year”.

Scatter Plot - Wizdee


5 – Pay attention to details

Now that you have chosen your chart you can go further and use size, shapes, colour, scale and labels to direct attention to the key messages. Having a visually appealing visualization is important but keep in mind that it should clarify your message rather than confusing the reader with unnecessary information.

Let me give you a couple of examples. When possible, use labels directly in the chart so the audience can quickly understand the visualization. Always avoid including too similar colours or using other shapes than circular on matrix plot charts.

If you want to go deeper on how to choose the perfect visualization to tell your story, download the free Ebook and learn more about different types of visualization, do’s and don’ts when it comes to presenting data and how to adapt to each audience.

Data Visualisation


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