With so many votes, opinion polls and studies in the news over the last year or more, the media has been full of all kinds of statistics, charts and graphs showing us survey results, trends and potential outcomes, and exploring various “what-if” scenarios.
Pie charts and donuts
Both these charts consist of circles divided into segments, with the arc of each segment showing the proportional value of each piece of data. They are the simplest and most efficient visual tool for comparing parts of a whole, for example, the market share of the big corporations in a sector.
These charts are frequently used to report market-research question responses: e.g. when offered a choice of A, B or C, 30% chose A, 20% chose B and 50% chose C.
The sum of the parts
The segments need to add up to 100% – the full circle – so it may be necessary to add in a segment corresponding to “other”, in order to deal with missed questions, spoiled answers etc.
Alternatively, if respondents are allowed to choose more than one answer, the sum of the segments will be more than 100%, so a different form of chart will need to be used for reporting the results.
Drawing not to scale
Because we tend to understand visual data so much more quickly than text or figures, it’s possible to manipulate a pie chart by using inaccurate drawings: if one block in the picture is bigger than another, very few people will look at the actual figures to check it’s drawn to scale.
If there are two or more charts on a page, comparing the answers given to different questions by men and women, for example, it is important to make consistent use of colours to show the men’s answers and the women’s answers. If the colours are swapped, it’s easy for the reader to get confused.
For most of us, visual information is much more quickly apprehended by the brain than text or figures, and proportions and relative sizes make more sense than decontextualised numbers. That means that imagery and graphics are a fundamental way of getting people’s attention and displaying and communicating information about our businesses, about politics, and about the world we live in.
Bar graphs, line graphs, pies and donuts are just a few of the common chart types used. And we’re so familiar with them that we don’t always look more closely to see whether they are being used well or whether we are being lied to – whether that’s unintentionally or with malice aforethought.
Clarity is a vital aspect of communication, but, particularly in the world of politics, it isn’t always in the interests of the person producing the information. It’s important, then, to take responsibility yourself and look more closely at what – and how – data is being presented in order to ensure that you are as well-informed as possible.
And when it comes to communicating information about your own business, it’s a good idea to get the help of an expert to make sure the message is put across clearly and correctly.
If you’ve got a tricky message or complicated information that you need to get across to your stakeholders – clients, staff, investors… – we specialise in simplifying the complex and communicating unfamiliar concepts clearly through well-chosen words and careful design. Why not give us a call on 0798 661 3437?