Support your message with a well-designed graph

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This column graph was published in a voting guide mailed to members of a large organization.

The graph depicts the results of an advisory vote of members attending an informational meeting in advance of a vote by the entire membership. The leadership of the organization recommended the membership vote in favor of the proposal. The graph has been redrawn.

 

As a member of this organization, I was aware of the results of the advisory vote before I received my copy of the voting guide. When I opened the guide and saw this column graph, my immediate response was “The advisory vote wasn’t as lopsided as I thought.”

When users decode a column graph, they make judgments about the comparative heights of the columns, a comparison we can make quite accurately.

When designers place numerals on top of columns, the numerals visually extend the columns.

The column graph immediately below depicts the visual height of the columns as we perceive them. Because the numerals on top of each column are the same height, the numerals extend the height of the columns disproportionately.

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The published graph is, unintentionally, visually inaccurate and, consequently, less persuasive than an optimally constructed graph.

Alternatively, the designer could have placed a one row table immediately below the column graph to show the actual vote counts and depict the results accurately.

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See the difference?

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