Measurement 101: Choosing the Right Graph

Measurement 101: Choosing the Right Graph

Internal communication professionals are increasingly turning their attention to measurement. This is key to earning a seat at the table, tracking results, and creating strategies that deliver on business objectives. But data and analytics sometimes are a bit out of our comfort zones. So, in this blog our goal is to start by reviewing a few common types of graphs and when to use them. For a more in-depth explanation check out storytellingwithdata.com/chart-guide.

Line Graphs 

This chart type is best used to illustrate changes over time or to compare how several things change over time in relation to one another.

line graph example showing newsletter opens over time

You’ll use line charts to show trends over time. So, for example, you would use line graphs to show app or newsletter opens over time. Or you can use this to show average video view duration over time. And this is a great visual to see if new or modified tactics are paying off.

But be sure not to use a line graph for comparing parts to the whole, displaying quantities of things (that’s what bar charts are for!), or if change over time has nothing to do with what you are trying to visually represent.

Bar Charts

There are many types of bar charts. This chart variety is used to graph categorical data or data sorted into groups for comparison. The classic vertical bar chart likely is the most familiar to you. And a horizontal bar chart is very useful when you have longer category names. But you can also use stacked bar charts that are used to illustrate the parts or components of a given category and compare the categories.

bar chart example showing likert scale survey results that frontline teams want more mobile communication

As an internal comms pro, a few examples of how you might use bar charts include:

  • To visualize results to Likert Scale and multiple choice survey questions that you want to share back to leadership.
  • To visualize who attended your most recent town hall based on job title, location, department, etc.

Area Graphs 

This chart type is a special type of line graph where you fill in the region between the line and the x-axis with a solid color to impact how we perceive the data. Note that you can show positive and negative data—some area charts go below the x-axis to show the fall in your data set. Unlike your regular line graph, these show part-to-whole relationships over time.

area chart example showing video opens being a high percentage of all content opens over time

You might use area graphs to show a trend over time (like line graphs) but also what makes up that total. So for instance, you might want to show content opens over time, but you also want to illustrate what types of content make up the total opens. This would let you show, for example, how your podcast, videos, and PDF/Text based content perform in relation to one another over time.

Pie Charts

This chart type is very often misused. They are used to express a part-to-whole relationship. Period. But unfortunately, they are sometimes used to compare data. But it is very difficult to compare two separate pie charts side-by-side. So, keep that in mind.

But also remember that sometimes pie charts are used and the slices aren’t different enough in size. So this is really great to show when one part is relatively small or big compared to everything else. 

pie chart example showing preferred communication channels among frontline workers

Pie charts can also be used to represent survey answers, especially when there is a clear top or bottom answer. 

Get Started

Of course there are MANY more chart varieties than this. But it can get overwhelming, so we have picked out some of the most common ones. Once you have selected the right graph, you’re ready to start telling the story in your data. For more measurement tips, consult our FREE definitive guide to measurement and analytics made in partnership with our friends at Brilliant Ink.

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