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Using Charts Effectively

This guide is a general overview of creating and using charts including best practices in chart design.

How Do I Create a Good Chart?

Two main principles for creating an impactful chart are:

1. Create a Descriptive Header

After deciding on the best chart form to use, create a header for your chart that reinforces your main message. The header will be in larger font and centered at the top.

2. Present a Clear Message

There are other ways to highlight your main message besides a clear header. You will want to keep in mind the viewer’s eyes go directly to the peaks, valleys, intersections, dominant colors, and outliers in a chart.


The tips below will help you emphasize your main message based on the chart format you have chosen.

Pie chart – The most important slice is in the upper right hand corner. You can even pull it out for further emphasis.

Bar chart – Use a different color for the bar that corresponds to your message.

Histogram – Insert an arrow to draw attention to a key finding.

Line chart – The most important line can be solid (rather than dotted) or shown in the brightest color

Area chart – The bottom layer should be the largest share of the graph and in the darkest color

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