What is a good visual way to interpret scientific data?


Quick Answer

Pie charts, line charts and bar charts are some good ways to visually interpret scientific data. Which visual representation is best varies according to the nature of the data and the information one wants to convey to an audience.

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Full Answer

Pie charts, which display data categories as wedges of a circle, or like pie slices, can be used to show percentages. Pie charts are appropriate when results add up to 100 percent and do not overlap. For example, a pie chart can display percentages of people who answer "yes" or "no" to a survey question.

Line charts are a good option when someone wants to show a change over time. Line charts present data points as functions of two continuous variables, which are variables that can take any value between a given minimum and maximum. For example, a line chart can illustrate trends in temperature, since both temperature and time are continuous variables. Line charts are designed with x and y axes, against which data is plotted. A line is drawn to connect the data points.

Bar charts are a good way to show comparisons between different categories. For example, a bar chart could represent a company's profits for each of the past several years, or the profits of different companies within the same year. Bar charts can be displayed either vertically or horizontally.

Histograms are visually similar to bar charts but represent data differently. Unlike a bar chart, which is appropriate for comparing distinct categories, a histogram shows the estimated probability of a continuous variable.To construct a histogram, one must first sort the data into bins, or ranges of values. For example, a histogram can show how many students earned scores of 75 to 79 on a test, how many scored from 80 to 85 and so forth.

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