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Pie Graph

Too Much Pie

I have been really excited about writing this post for a while now, but I admit that what I am about to share is very contrary to popular opinion.

All I ask is that you hear me out and read through this post to its conclusion, and if you agree with what I have to say, I think that’s great. If you completely disagree, I think that’s just as wonderful.

After all, what we choose to believe and do should be the product of our own conclusion in the end. I merely hope to expand your perspective and share some new knowledge with you along the way.

The Pie Graph

The pie graph is one of the most popular graphs around these days. I see it used almost everywhere, and it is instantly recognizable when you see it.

In fact, that is one of the advantages of the pie graph. At first sight, you can instantly tell that you are looking at parts of a whole or an overall percentage measurement.

Pie Graph | Parts of a Whole

It’s definitely a good thing when you can immediately tell what a graph is trying to communicate.

Another advantage of the pie graph lies in your ability to quickly identify quarter measurements when you see them. It is very easy to recognize 25%, 50%, and 75% on a pie graph.

Pie Graph | Quarter & Half Slices

Despite all of these advantages however, this is where a pie graph’s usefulness tends to come to an end. Contrary to popular belief, a pie graph is actually really bad at communicating what it is trying to say.

The Ugly Side of the Pie

When you look at a pie graph, you can sort of tell which part represents the majority and which represents the minority. However, all of the measurements in between tend to be muddled and distorted.

Take a look at the example below.

Pie Graph Slices

By looking at this graph, how long would it take you to identify the separate chunks in order from least to greatest? Would you even be able to get the order right in the first place?

A major disadvantage of the pie graph is that it forces us to compare angles relative to each other to determine differences. Unfortunately, our brains don’t do this nearly as well or as quickly as we would like. Our minds are actually a whole lot better at comparing lengths rather than angles.

Take a look at these two pictures below. Is it easier to identify the differences between the bars or the pieces of the pie?

Pie Graph Slices

Vertical Bar Graph

It is far easier to discern the differences between the bars.

Another major disadvantage to pie graphs is that when they are oriented in a 3D fashion, not only is it difficult to accurately read the data, but the data can appear skewed as well. Take a look at the graph below. Which of the three chunks do you believe to be the largest?

3D Pie Graph

If you said B, then you were correct. Here is the data that was used.

Data Table

Even if you got the answer right, how certain or quickly were you able to arrive at your answer in the first place?

There is a Better Way

Here is the exact same data that was used above, but this time it is shown with a bar graph instead.

Bar Graph

How quickly were you able to come to a conclusion of the largest piece of data this time? I bet you were able to tell which was the greatest almost instantly.

When expressing percentages or parts of a whole, you don’t have to immediately default to a pie graph. You can actually use a bar graph instead.

As long as you clearly label the graph, your audience will be able to tell that you are expressing the data in terms of percentages. What’s more, your audience will be able to recognize so much faster and easier how much each piece of data contributes to the overall picture.

Ranked Bar Graph

Now is the time to stop eating all of that pie and upgrade to a protein bar instead. Although a pie graph may look pretty, using bars can be much heathier for both you and your data in the long run.

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