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 In Articles, DataBlog

Tables like these might convey interaction effects clearly, but clear doesn’t always equal compelling. Modern media demand visuals, and it’s possible to give your audience something graphic that catches attention. Three pretty, effective ways to show off interaction effects are 1) Bar charts, 2) Line charts and 3) Labelled Line Charts. So, which to choose?

The short answer: let your audience tell you. The choice should be based on the people a nonprofit or foundation might be talking to, and what information they need to get. We can start with a pretty broad audience to demonstrate the use of these 3 options. Maybe you’re writing an annual report, or summarizing a study for a local magazine. In cases like these, or that of the milk farmers in last week’s blog, a good old reliable bar chart can do the trick:

Why? Many people are comfortable with bar charts. They understand how to interpret their data encoding – ‘taller bars’ means ‘more stuff there’. Easy reading.

Equally important, the other options have real disadvantages in this case. We associate line charts with trends, like with stock prices. And that’s not the kind of information this data can actually give us.

The line between the Female Farmer Leader and Male Farmer Leader points suggests a communication function. But here it represents no data. There is no trend between the two points, so the lines are unhelpful if not downright misleading.

So while line charts look and feel more elegant, they don’t work here. Even if we illustrate the points’ nature in a labelled line chart, it still confusingly suggests change over time:

While the chart is now more exact, and the specificity of each labelled point is positive, it is still really not helpful for telling this data’s story accurately.

The ideal solution, of course, combines line chart labels with bar chart boldness. It’s called an ‘Infographic’ (swoon!), and for those who not already acquainted, check in on Thursday for an introduction to this much-talked-up trend. Fortunately, there’s substance behind the beauty. You (and your data) might end up falling for more than the looks… so stay tuned.

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