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When to Use a Pie Chart

If you are an avid reader of my blog, then you probably remember the article where I talk about pie charts and why you should NOT use them.

However, I didn’t talk too much about when you should actually use them.

And that’s what this article is all about – the appropriate time to use a pie chart.

When a Pie Chart is a Good Idea

Pie charts are not nearly as effective as bar charts when comparing several metrics against one another. And that includes percentages.

However, a pie chart and its close counterpart, the doughnut chart, are an excellent choice when comparing ONLY TWO metrics.

For example, let’s say you are tracking your habits and want to see how many times you complete a habit versus the number of times you do not.

A pie or doughnut chart would be perfect in this scenario.

You can easily see which metric (completed or did not complete) is larger, and you get an immediate sense of the percentage as well.

So when comparing two and ONLY TWO measures or metrics, a pie or doughnut chart is a great choice.

Why ONLY TWO?

It can be difficult to gauge the differences when you have more than two measures to display on a pie or doughnut chart. In fact, you can read all about these differences in my article, Too Much Pie.

However, that difficulty disappears when you have only two measures to look at. And on top of that, it becomes very easy to recognize a few things about the data.

The first thing you can do is easily distinguish which chunk of the data is larger. Either A or B.

That in itself is already a major positive point.

The second big thing you can take away from a pie or doughnut chart showing only two metrics is the ability to recognize the 25%, 50%, and 75% points.

Take a look at the chart below.

You can easily see that metric A is very close to 75%, and metric B is close to 25%. These measures may not be those amounts exactly, but you get a clear sense of where they might be.

So the big takeaway is that displaying two measures on a pie or doughnut chart offers some immediate advantages without the major drawbacks of displaying more than two metrics.

So if you want to compare ONLY TWO metrics, a pie or doughnut chart is an excellent choice. And if you want to depict more than two, go with a bar chart instead.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. You have converted me to a pro bar chart over pie person! I love this article too though because it shows how objective you are and researched you must be. It’s really great getting to see your perspective!

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