Reading: Section 2.4 on Graphical Presentations

Charts and Graphs

Presenting data is important, and graphs, charts, histograms and other visual presentations are very important. Being able to visualize data helps to focus on what is important: outliers, peaks and valleys, trends of growth or decline, and so forth.

Sample Data

Let's start with a spreadsheet of data about the application of the death penalty in the US. Please download the Excel file and open it in Excel.

On January 1, 2006, The Boston Globe Magazine published a cover story on the occasion of the 1000th execution in the U.S. since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. The article had a breakdown of that data by state, which is interesting as a dataset. Thanks to Irene Laursen in the Wellesley's Science Library, we have that data, plus additional detail. Take a few minutes to look over the data.

Here are some additional links:

Line Graphs

Line graphs are useful when the x-axis is ordered in some way. The most common way for it to be ordered is time. The graphs we've seen in Extend for the amount of money or the number of rabbits or whatever are interesting because of how they change over time, and a Line Graph is a good way of doing this.

Let's graph the number of executions in the U.S. since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976. To get started, choose "Insert / Chart" or click on the icon of a bar chart. This starts the "chart wizard," which helps you create a chart in four steps.

  1. Chart Type:
  2. Chart Source Data:
  3. Chart Options. These are mostly labels and other non-data stuff
  4. Chart Location. The chart can either be placed in an existing sheet or a new sheet. The default is reasonable.

Look at the result. Feel free to compare it with the chart under "Chart1" in the tabs below the spreadsheet. Notice:

You should see a little window floating in front of your plot. Some of the things we are interested in changing can be changed there. For example, to change the line color, pull down the menu and choose "Series 1". The little icon next to the pull-down menu brings up a window called "Format Data Series." Alternatively, you can try double-clicking on the line itself. From the Format Data Series window, you can choose different colors and such.

If you double-click the "120" on the y-axis, you can bring up a "Format Axis" window, which has a tab for "scale." Change it to 100.

We'll fix the others by doing them right the first time. (We could also do it after the fact, but I think it's better and easier to see how to get it right the first time.) So we'll re-do our chart. Delete the first one and then:

  1. Same choices for the chart type
  2. For the Chart Data

Pretty cool, hunh? Notice that the X axis is now correct. However, the Y data is more than we want, at least for this graph. Let's fix that.

Examine the result. Looking at the breakdown by the three major regions is worthwhile. This is a good time to consider the other chart sub-types. You can change chart sub-types with "Chart/Chart Type."

Bar Charts

Another way to display data is via a bar chart. A bar chart is more appropriate when there isn't necessarily any order to the X axis, or, even if there is, "trends" are not the point. For example, we could look at the row totals, broken down by region or even by state.

Executions by Region

Use the chart wizard again.

  1. Chart Type: Choose "Column," and choose the sub-type in the upper left ("clustered column").
  2. Chart Source Data. You can see that Excel has already made some "guesses." These will typically be useless, unless you have a simple spreadsheet. Here, delete it's notion of the data, and replace it with four cell addresses, separated by commas:

    Then, switch to the "series" tab and choose a "name" cell for each series, namely the data in column A.

  3. Chart Options: fill in the title and axis labels as you see fit.
  4. Chart Location: put it anywhere you like. Compare with "Chart3"

Notice that the data from the Department of Justice doesn't include the 2005 data. I added a column to compute the totals through 2005; it's column AE.

Executions by State

Redo the chart, building a bar chart by state. Unfortunately, Excel's desire to guess something useful will work against us. To see, let's try it:

  1. Same choice for the first step
  2. For the second step, try to get the data ranges correct. It's a pain, especially since there are 50+ of them.

Start over. This time, copy the first two columns (starting at US total) to a blank sheet.

  1. Same choice for the first step
  2. For the second step, choose "series in columns" and switch to the series tab. Then, amend the formula for values for Series1 to be the B column (B1:B62) and the Category (X) axis labels to be the A column (A2:A62).
  3. Choose an appropriate chart title and axis labels
  4. Finish and compare with Chart4

Having the state labels vertical is hard to read. This is a good case for the horizontal orientation.


Consult Flick Coleman's histogram tutorial in Flash.

Note that it's actually not necessary to sort the data; the histogram tool will sort a copy of the data.

Data Summarization

Do you agree with summarizing by region?

How would you summarize the data about the 1000 total executions since 1976?

Sheet3 has the data with just the basic 52 regions (50 states, plus DC and Federal).


You could sort the data by state name or by magnitude. Let's try both.


Assume you can report several numbers, not just one. What do you report? Why?

Chart Analysis

Look at the chart Executions by Year 1608-2000? (It's at the bottom of the page.) What do you think of it? Why?

More Chart Analysis

I'll hand out a copy of the January 30, 2006 Newsweek cover story on boys and girls, which has two charts on the bottom of page 52 that I think are worth trying to re-do. Please do them.

If you want to compare, here is my charts for the boys and girls reading and writing scores

What is the effect of zooming in on the data?

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