Your graph must stand alone

April 12, 2015 Basics 0 Comments

One common mistake in graph displays is revealing too little information, leaving the audience to guess.

Most graphs are guilty of showing too little information. There is a difference between keeping a graph simple and easy to read and interpret, and eliminating necessary parts.

A basic rule is that your graph must be able to stand alone.

A graph needs to be clean and remain uncluttered and at the same time provide the viewer with the right message together with enough information, so ideally, no further reference should be needed. Clean up the graph and avoid “noise”, use colors sparingly, and use them to highlight deviation of categories. Add a short, direct sub-header to the graph and include a text box.

Have a look at the example below, which shows Germany’s biggest trading partners. It does a good job in pointing out the source, naming the top trading countries, and the proportion of the countries among themselves, but that´s about it. There is much more relevant information that can be highlighted here.




This is the same graph but with more information that offers the viewer more detailed information about Germany´s trade:

  1. The graph title states the top ten are being listed, so there is no need for the viewer to count the countries.
  2. The top ten are divided into EU- & non-EU-countries, and the two categories are visible in the graph.
  3. Six EU-countries make the top ten.
  4. Each country´s trade surplus is shown in Billion Euros.
  5. The text inside the graph offers insight various pieces of additional and relevant information, such as the total size of the trade balance, a brief structure and history of German industry, and the top trade deficit countries.