Which Chart Is Better for a Small Area?
If you have plenty of data and can spare only a small amount of space to display it all then you need to know about the best charts for small areas. While there are many chart types available like radar, pie, doughnut, line, bar, scatter, line and others, they have their own unique sets of strengths and drawbacks that you must take into consideration while visually depicting your data. Certain charts may be more appropriate for your specific circumstances.
So what are the best charts for small areas? The good-old fashioned line charts can help you to amalgamate plenty of information in one small area so that your chart has a fairly small footprint. Leveraging line graphs, you can aggregate vast amounts of data in one compact chart to show everything necessary and save space at the same time. This type of graph has long been the favorite of investors since it can succinctly show the rapidly fluctuating fortunes of stock exchanges as well as individual stocks. You do not need a particularly large area for this chart and yet you can show relevant data without sacrificing anything. They key to the success of this chart for small areas is that it can adequately display a vast range of data points in a fairly compact area. You can mark the axes easily without taking up too much extra space. You can even use the graph area itself to note down certain important points to save even more space.
To understand why the line graph is such a good chart for small areas, you just have to perceive the drawbacks of other chart types. It is not that other chart types are less expedient than the line graph. It is just that they are better suited for other scenarios.
How Other Graphs Compare
Take for instance, the pie graph. Imagine how unwieldy it would be for displaying rapidly fluctuating and shifting data points. You would have the divide the pie chart into several small slices since there are so many data points. As a result, the slices would be so small it would be very difficult to compare them with another visually. This is not a problem at all with line graphs. Pie charts would be unsuitable for such purposes even though they are circular in shape and have smaller areas than rectangular line graphs. But due to the sheer number of data points, the slices would be simply too narrow to facilitate an easy visual comparison. Another problem is with labelling. Since the slices are too narrow, you cannot write labels within slices. You will have to create a key or a legend outside the pie chart itself and this will take up lots of extra space which will defeat the very purpose of charts for small areas.
For very similar reasons doughnut charts are also unsuitable for the said purpose since doughnut charts are primarily pie charts that are hollow at the center.
Radar graphs are an evolution of the pie chart and they can show plenty of data in a small area adequately. Since these graphs are circular in shape, they have smaller areas than bar and line graphs. In such a graph, the data points will radiate outwards from the center in the shape of spokes. The data points will be arranged at fixed angular intervals. The size of these intervals will depend on the number of data points. Hence, the data points will be at an equal angular interval from one another. The magnitude of each data will be shown by its distance from the center. The greater the size of the data, the further away will be the data point from the center. This might seem like a very fair comparison of data points. And with their circular shape, radar charts will indeed occupy smaller areas than line and bar charts.
Since they are more area efficient, why aren’t they used as extensively as line and bar charts? The answer lies in our perceptions and biases. We are far more comfortable when scanning data from left to right and from top to bottom (as in line graphs) than we are with scanning data radially (as in radar charts). The radar chart is indeed more area efficient than the old-school line graph. However, its major drawback is the awkward angular representation of data which is not exactly appealing to our senses. Since the orientation of each data point is different, comparison of the two data points becomes more awkward and difficult. Hence, the line graph is more suitable for showing lots of data in a small area.
A Close Second
Anther chart type that ranks high with respect to showing lots of data in small areas is the bar graph. But with plenty of data points to show, the bars would appear quite narrow and in extreme cases might appear as thick lines. Although there is nothing wrong with such a representation it is basically a matter of taste and visual appeal. Data aficionados may agree that line graphs will look better than bar graphs in such cases.
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