Common problems with charts… and how to avoid them!

The main point of a graph is to relay information very quickly; you would hope that someone viewing your data would see the point very quickly and then you can discuss the implications at length. But because you are effectively placing so much information in one graphic, it is easy to give the wrong message, whether by intention or by mistake. Let’s assume that you aren’t out to mislead your audience, there are still several ways in which you can unwittingly give out spurious information. The main ways in which this can happen include;

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Confused about chart types? Not any more!

When you find that you have data that you want to chart it can be pretty confusing as to what type of chart you should use and how your data is going to turn out. Being presented with the options and possibilities can seem very daunting, but if you take a little time to sort through the possibilities and understand what you are likely to get at the end of the process then you are more likely to produce something that you want and shows the data you need.  To help with this I've reviewed what the basic types of charts are and the advantages/disadvantages of them.

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Charting success; Picking Your Chart Type

Charts can be used to display all sorts of information in a colourful and eye-catching way, but it’s a thin line between giving succinct data and showing a confusing and unintelligible mess instead. There are many ways to mess up a graph, but starting it right will make it less likely that it will go awry later.

The most fundamental part of creating your chart is deciding upon what form it will take and that might depend on what data you are trying to show. If you get this wrong you’re likely to end up giving misleading information and just confusing people.

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Making Data Easy

When it comes to conveying information, charts and graphs present a huge amount of interesting and practical material. They are generally easy to read and offer a snapshot of interesting facts in a single graphic. The main problem is that there aren't that many spreadsheet and graph authoring programs around. Sure there’s MS Office – but it’s kind of expensive - and there’s Open Office too, but that’s somehow, just a cheap version of MS Office and though it does many of the same things, it’s slightly, well, quirky. Keen to find something cheap - and preferably free - and very user friendly when I wanted to generate a graph, I decided to head over to Chartblocks.com and use the free on-line tools, rather than crank up Office 2010 again.

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