Another way to facilitate listener comprehension of data visuals is by selecting the graphic best suited to the message you are presenting to a specific audience. As Edward Tufte, dubbed the Galileo of Graphics by Business Week, maintains, "It's all about the relationship between the viewer and the information on the screen and the viewer's cognitive task in looking at that information."

Ease that cognitive task by also matching the type of visual you construct to the particular function that each best serves.


A chart displays data by representing them through bars, lines, or portions of a circle. Charts are especially effective in showing comparisons, correlations, trends, relationships, or patterns within the data. They can also be helpful in illustrating or sharing key messages and conclusions.

  • A bar chart compares frequencies or values for different categories or groups.
  • A line chart presents trends over time.
  • A pie chart shows percentages or portions of a whole in a simple way.


Similar to a bar chart in structure, a histogram graphically represents the distribution of data by using bar width to show class proportions and bar height to show their frequency.


An infographic presents data visually using pictorial and textual elements. While they've become increasingly popular, infographics have existed for a very long time. Here's one that Florence Nightingale created to help persuade the British government to improve sanitation in military hospitals and thus save lives.


Maps enable quick comprehension of a large amount of information related to geographic regions. By showing the spatial distribution of an instance or attribute, they can be used to show patterns or illustrate sources of economic, marketing, social, medical, pharmaceutical, and other kinds of data.


A scatterplot illustrates the relationship between two variables. It's especially suited to showing correlations and emphasizing outlying data.


A sparkline is "a small, intense, simple, word-sized graphic with typographic resolution." It's a line chart, has no axes, and is used primarily to show trends in data over time.


A table presents a particular subset of data, usually a small one, in a rectangular form with data placed in rows and columns. Using a table enables you to reduce the number of data values discussed in your presentation and to omit variables that have no bearing on your messages.


A word cloud or data cloud is a weighted list that represents the frequency with which a word or value appears in a text or dataset. Various sizes, fonts, and/or colors indicate the importance of included words or data; each item is generally hyperlinked to additional information.

For more about constructing effective visuals, see Slides, Basically and Think Outside the Bullet. And examine the PowerPoint® prepared by Alan Schlobohm, paying special attention to his last words: "Keep your presentation user-friendly, even if your data isn't."

Begin with the user experience, Tufte advises: "All I care about is the relationship between the viewer's brain and the intellectual task and the material…as it's presented."

That's taking care.