Types of Graphs

List of the top 10 types of graphs for data

Top 10 Types of Graphs

Any good financial analyst knows the importance of effectively communicating results, which largely comes down to knowing the different types of charts and graphs, and when to use them. In this guide, we outline the top 10 types of graphs in Excel, and what situation each kind is best for.  Learn how to deliver powerful presentations and clear takeaways with these effective chart types.  Learn more in CFI’s data visualization course!

 

#1 Line Graphs

The most common, simplest, and classic is the line graph. The perfect solution for showing multiple series of closely related series of data.  Since line graphs are very light-weight (they only consist of lines, as opposed to thinker chart types, as shown further below) they are great for a minimalistic look.

line graph example

Tips:

  • remove all gridlines,
  • remove any shading or borders,
  • highlight a single series with a different color

 

#2 Bar Graphs

Bars (or columns) are the best types of graphs for presenting a single data series. Bar charts have a much heavier weight to them than line graphs so they really emphasize a point and stand out on the page.

 

types of graphs bar graph

Source: Dashboards and Data Presentation course

Tips

  • Remove all gridlines
  • Reduce gap width

 

#3 Combo Chart

The above two types of graphs can be combined to create a combo chart with bars and lines.  This is very useful when presenting two data services that have a very different scale and might be expressed in different units.  The most common example is dollars on one axis and percentage on the other axis.

bar and line graph

Source: Dashboard Course

Tips

  • Delete borders and gridlines
  • Add a legend
  • Reduce gap width for the bars
  • Adjust the axis

 

#4 Scatterplot

The scatterplot is excellent for showing the relationship between two data series and determining their correlation.  The scatterplot is great for showing what the distribution of data points looks like and drawing a line of best fit for regression analysis.

scatterplot example

Source: Budgeting & Forecasting Course.

Tips

  • Clearly label each axis
  • Add a trendline
  • Highlight clusters of data

 

#5 Waterfall Chart

In Excel 2016 Microsoft finally introduced a waterfall chart feature.  In all older versions of Excel, analysts had to create a custom workaround using stacked column charts. If you are in a version of Excel prior to 2016 please see our free guide and waterfall chart template.  The waterfall chart is excellent for variance analysis and explaining how an “actual” result was different than a “budget” or how something has changed relative to an original data point.

waterfall chart

Tips

  • Set the start and end points to be “totals”
  • Format positive and negatives
  • Clear away gridlines

 

#6 Pie Graph

Pie charts have a bad reputation and are known for being messy and hard to read.  If you’re trying to illustrate the percentage breakdown of a small number of data point they can be very effective.  For example, percent of people who prefer bananas, pineapple, and grapes.

pie chart

Tips

  • Keep it 2-D only
  • Don’t graph more than 5 items in one pie
  • Use infrequently

 

#7 Histogram

Histograms are the types of graphs that show the distribution of a dataset. They graph the percentage or the number of instances of different categories.  For example, to show the distribution of age categories (0-10, 11-20, 21-30, etc.) we can clearly see which categories are the biggest and how many people fall into each.

histogram example

Tips

  • Set gap width to zero
  • Add subtle border between bars
  • Add data labels

 

#8 Gauge Chart

The gauge chart is perfect for graphing a single data point and showing where that result fits on a scale from “bad” to “good”.  Gauges are an advanced type of graph as Excel doesn’t have a standard template for making them.  To build one you have to combine a pie and a doughnut.  Learn how in our data visualization course.

gauge chart in Excel

Source: Advanced Excel Course

Tips

  • Best for a single data point
  • Shows performance on a scale (i.e. bad to good)
  • Learn via video instruction

 

#9 Area Graph

An area chart is a solid area and can be effective when showing stacked, cumulative data series.  For example, showing the cumulative sales revenue from different products.  This allows the reader to easily visualize the “area” (or weight) of each series relative to each other.

types of graphs - area chart

Tips

  • Use stacked area
  • Graph data that is cumulative
  • Use colors carefully

 

#10 Spider chart / radar graph

A spider or radar graph is a very useful type of graph for showing qualitative data or the overall “score” or comparison of multiple series.  For example, a spider/radar could be easily used to compare 3 different types of phones based on 5 criteria (speed, screen size, camera quality, memory, apps).

 

spider graph example

Tips

  • Keep it simple
  • Only graph a few series/items
  • Format to be minimalistic
  • Remove markers

 

Additional resources

This has been a guide to the top 10 different types of graphs analysts need to perform world-class analysis.  To keep learning and developing your career, you will find these additional resources helpful: