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Bar and Pie Charts

Bar and pie charts use pictures to compare the sizes, amounts, quantities, or proportions of various items or groupings of items.

When to Use Them

Bar and pie charts can be used in defining or choosing problems to work on, analyzing problems, verifying causes, or judging solutions. They make it easier to understand data because they present the data as a picture, highlighting the results. This is particularly helpful in presenting results to team members, managers, and other interested parties. Bar and pie charts present results that compare different groups. They can also be used with variable data that have been grouped. Bar charts work best when showing comparisons among categories, while pie charts are used for showing relative proportions of various items in making up the whole (how the "pie" is divided up).

Selecting a Type of Bar Chart

Teams may choose from three types of bar charts, depending on the type of data they have and what they want to stress:

Simple bar charts sort data into simple categories.

Grouped bar charts divide data into groups within each category and show comparisons between individual groups as well as between categories. (It gives more useful information than a simple total of all the components.)

Stacked bar charts, which, like grouped bar charts, use grouped data within categories. (They make clear both the sum of the parts and each group’s contribution to that total.)

Step 1. Choose the type of bar chart that stresses the results to be focused on. Grouped and stacked bar charts will require at least two classification variables. For a stacked bar chart, tally the data within each category into combined totals before drawing the chart.

Step 2. Draw the vertical axis to represent the values of the variable of comparison (e.g., number, cost, time). Establish the range for the data by subtracting the smallest value from the largest. Determine the scale for the vertical axis at approximately 1.5 times the range and label the axis with the scale and unit of measure.

Step 3. Determine the number of bars needed. The number of bars will equal the number of categories for simple or stacked bar charts. For a grouped bar chart, the number of bars will equal the number of categories multiplied by the number of groups. This number is important for determining the length of the horizontal axis.

Step 4. Draw bars of equal width for each item and label the categories and the groups. Provide a title for the graph that indicates the sample and the time period covered by the data; label each bar.



How to Use a Pie Chart

Step 1. Taking the data to be charted, calculate the percentage contribution for each category. First, total all the values. Next, divide the value of each category by the total. Then, multiply the product by 100 to create a percentage for each value.

Step 2. Draw a circle. Using the percentages, determine what portion of the circle will be represented by each category. This can be done by eye or by calculating the number of degrees and using a compass. By eye, divide the circle into four quadrants, each representing 25 percent.

Step 3. Draw in the segments by estimating how much larger or smaller each category is. Calculating the number of degrees can be done by multiplying the percent by 3.6 (a circle has 360 degrees) and then using a compass to draw the portions.

Step 4. Provide a title for the pie chart that indicates the sample and the time period covered by the data. Label each segment with its percentage or proportion (e.g., 25 percent or one quarter) and with what each segment represents (e.g., people who returned for a follow-up visit; people who did not return).



Be careful not to use too many notations on the charts. Keep them as simple as possible and include only the information necessary to interpret the chart.

Do not draw conclusions not justified by the data. For example, determining whether a trend exists may require more statistical tests and probably cannot be determined by the chart alone. Differences among groups also may require more statistical testing to determine if they are significant.

Whenever possible, use bar or pie charts to support data interpretation. Do not assume that results or points are so clear and obvious that a chart is not needed for clarity.

A chart must not lie or mislead! To ensure that this does not happen, follow these guidelines:

  • • Scales must be in regular intervals
  • • Charts that are to be compared must have the same scale and symbols
  • • Charts should be easy to read