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Five Uses for a Bar Graph

What is a Bar Graph?

A bar graph is simply a chart with an x-axis and a y-axis which uses rectangles to represent certain values pertaining to a certain number of categories.

That was a mouthful.

In other words, a bar graph uses the length of bars to measure some metric about a certain thing. Here is a detailed picture you can use for reference.

The various parts of a bar graph

Now that you know what a bar graph is and what it looks like, let’s go ahead and go over five ways a bar graph can be used.

Use No. 1 – To Compare Sum Totals

In life, there are a lot of numbers and sums. Totally!

  • You eat a vast amount of calories in a day
  • You read a certain number of books over the course of a year
  • You even spend a specific amount of money on various items

In many different ways, numbers represent various parts of your life.

This is great news because any category that contains numbers is an opportunity for you to gain insight about your life.

For instance, let’s say that you want to know how many books you read every month and how each month compares to one another.

This is an excellent opportunity to use a bar graph. It would look something like this.

A bar graph showing books read each month

Taking your book totals and displaying them on a bar graph like the one above gives you a quick snapshot of your performance. You can tell in an instant which months were your strongest and which were your weakest.

Use No. 2 – To Display Percentages

Usually, when you think percentages, you think of the pie graph. Although the pie graph is the popular percentage graph, you can also display percentages on a bar graph.

In fact, it is much better to use a bar graph instead. Putting percentages on a bar graph makes the comparison much easier to see.

As an example, take a look at the two graphs below and decide for yourself which displays the data more clearly.

Pie Graph Slices

Vertical Bar Graph

As you can see, it is much easier to distinguish between the lengths of the bars rather than the various pie slices.

Use No. 3 – To Measure Progress

If you are working hard to achieve a goal over any period of time, it is a good idea to track your progress. Here’s an awesome example!

Let’s say that you are trying to run 100 miles over a 100-day period. Using the power of spreadsheets, you enter in your total mileage and have your spreadsheet calculate what your mileage should be. In other words, your goal mileage.

Now you have two numbers to compare. All that’s left is to find a way to visualize it.

Enter in the bar graph.

You can put two bars on your graph and have one represent your goal and the other represent your progress.

Showing progress with a bar graph

When you depict things in this way, you are able to quickly measure your performance relative to your goal.

Use No. 4 – To Stay Under a Limit

Here’s another scenario for you. You are going through life and just so happened to read a book on budgeting.

Now that you’ve finished this book, you decide that setting a budget is a wonderful idea.

The good news is that you signed up for the Spreadsheet Life 3-2-1 Newsletter which comes with a Simple Budget Spreadsheet.

So now with your new budgeting tool, you can create as many budget items as you need and track each and every one.

Finally, after months of successful budgeting, you take a look at your Simple Budget dashboard and view the bar graph showing you which months you stayed under budget and which months you went over.

Bar graph showing the budget limit vs the spending

Without having to go back through all the numbers, you know in an instant which months were your most successful and which were not.

This is the power of a bar graph.

Use No. 5 – To Depict Rankings

Now that you’ve read through the first four uses for bar graphs, you could probably assign a number from 1 to 10 to each one.

Let’s say that 10 represents “Yes, that is an awesome idea,” and 1 represents “What?? Are you crazy!?”

Once you’ve done that, you could say that each one has a “score,” and since each has a “score,” you can rank them from worst to best. Now all you need is a way to depict how each ranks against the other.

Here is where you can use a bar graph. It would probably look something like this:

A bar graph used to show rankings

As you can see, a bar graph can very easily depict rankings and make it very clear which is the worst and which is the best.

So the next time you need a great data visualization tool, consider using a bar graph. Although simple at it’s core, this type of graph is a very useful tool in your chart and graph toolbox.

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