• Jonathan Bullock

The Seven Sins of data charts

Charts are a powerful tool to include in your presentation. They can allow you to represent data in interesting and engaging ways and easily convey meaning. It can be tempting however to engage in the 7 sins charting which reduces the impact they can have on your presentation. The seven sons of data charts are:

GREED - Don’t be greedy with your choices of colors. Use colors in your chart exclusively to highlight the message you want to convey. If everything is colorful and therefore highlighted then nothing will stand out. Don’t use color to just look pretty.

LUST - Don’t pursue a predetermined message. Let the data speak for itself. Skewing the message or bending time by manipulating the scales on your axis is a big no-no and your audience will see right through it.

ENVY – Avoid envy by making sure that size is accurately represented in your chart. Don’t make something bigger or smaller than the data indicates. Also, avoid trying to impress with complexity. It is always more impressive to represent a complex idea simply than the other way around.

GLUTTONY - Don’t use 3D pie charts, pie charts with exploded sections or doughnut charts. They misrepresent the actual sizes of the elements and can lead to misinterpretation of the data.

PRIDE – Take pride in your charts, don’t rush them and ensure they are consistent in both their appearance and the underlying data. When comparing use data sets of similar size, composition and accuracy.

WRATH – Avoid skipping critical data points or making assumptions. This can be particularly important when applying trend lines. It can be very easy to manipulate the data to the desired outcome. Ensure your charts are clearly labelled and sourced where appropriate. Finally, avoid complexity in your charts, if it could be 2 separate charts it probably should.

SLOTH – Showing excessive detail is lazy and should be avoided. Your chart should represent a single message. If you need to wear glasses to see the chart then there is too much information and your font size is too small. Your desired message and “point” should be clear and not open to interpretation.

Avoiding these 7 sins of charting will see your charts contribute more to the success of your presentation. Your charts should always be simple over complex and clear over confusing.


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