Principles of Graph Construction

  1. Graphical Perception

  2. Principles


Goal: Communicate information

Author (you) -> graphic -> Reader

A graph is more effective than another if its quantitative information can be decoded more quickly or more easily by most observers.

Nancy Robbins, Creating More Effective Graphs

Pattern perception depends on

Detection: recognition of geometry encoding values

Assembly: grouping of detected symbol elements

Estimation: assessment of relative magnitude of values

A hierarchy of human graphical perception abilities

  1. Position along a common scale (most accurate task)

  2. Position along identical nonaligned scales

  3. Length

  4. Angle and slope

  5. Area

  6. Volume

  7. Color: hue (red, green, blue, etc.), saturation (pale/deep), and lightness. Hue can give good discrimination but poor ordering.


  1. Show the data

  2. Avoid distorting the data

  3. Aid comparisons

  4. Maximise data:ink

  5. Label data, minimize legends

  6. Use clearly different symbols, colours

  7. Consider 0

  8. Dot plots are often better than bar charts

1. Show the data

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2. Avoid disorting the data

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3. Aid comparisons

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4. Maximise data:ink