Pictures tell stories. According to Napoleon Bonaparte, “A good sketch is better than a long speech.” It was true over 200 years ago, and it’s true today. According to the Social Science Research Network, 65% of people the world over are visual learners. For the majority of us, what we see forms what we understand: we need to see it, to believe it. That’s why it is paramount that market researchers focus not only on the data they uncover, but the ways in which they present it. A well-chosen and well-designed chart can often help people have an “aha” moment not possible through text alone.
Types of Charts
Of course, there are many types of charts. To pick the best one out of dozens and dozens of options, researchers must first determine the story they want to tell. Do they want to compare data points? Highlight outlying information? Do they want to analyze the frequency of some variable and its effect on a data set? The answers to questions like these will point them toward a general chart category, which then can be narrowed down to a specific chart type.
Take a look at the six general categories of charts used by researchers to help clients visualize data:
- Comparison (including Relationship and Deviation Charts) – Used to compare two or more sets of data to understand how they relate to one another. Relationship charts also compare data sets, but usually accentuate some sort of direct correlation between or amongst them, while deviation charts usually emphasize data that “deviates” from the norm in some way. Example: Comparing the number of male survey respondents to the number of female survey respondents.
Specific types of charts best representing data comparison include column/bar and line charts (for comparison and deviations); Venn diagrams, scatter plots and bubble charts (for relationships).
- Composition – Used to illustrate the individual parts of one whole data set. Example: showing the percentage of people in each age range of your consumers.
Specific types of charts best representing data composition include pie/doughnut charts and waterfall charts.
- Distribution – Used to show how a set of values is spread over an area or shared among a group. This type of chart seeks to show correlation (or non-correlation) among variables and especially highlights any outlying data. Example: depicting the number of sales each year for each company division over a multiple year period.
Specific types of charts best representing data distribution include line charts, column charts, scatter plots and word clouds.
- Process – Used to outline the progression of something. Example: defining the consumer buying process.
Specific types of charts best representing data process include flowcharts and decision trees.
- Trends – Used to display the ways data points move over time. Example: plotting total gross revenue over a specific period of time.
Specific types of charts best representing data trends include line charts, column charts, area charts and scatter plots.
- Location – Used to display the location of data. Example: mapping the locations of all U.S. retail stores for a company.
Specific type of chart best representing data location is a map.
Choosing the right chart to illustrate your story can be a daunting task. With so many options, people frequently get overwhelmed and resort to using the ubiquitous pie chart or line graph. At Communications for Research (CFR), we believe “a picture really is worth a thousand words.” If you are looking for more tips on how to communicate the value of market research through charts, reports and presentations, check out our FREE eBook “How Marketing Agencies Can Communicate the Value of Market Research to their Clients” today.