Press "Enter" to skip to content

Including Zero on Charts

Steve Jones thinks about zero:

I’m not great at building charts and graphs. I can build a basic chart, but I often depend on the tooling I use to size, scale, etc. appropriately for whatever I’m graphing. That, or I just use a basic graph that starts from zero and has some sort of linear scale. Or I just present a table of numbers.

There are plenty of misleading charts, especially used by the media that want to show some particular aspect of data that suits the story they are reporting. Many of these misleading charts often don’t start at zero, and they end up scaling in a way that can confuse people.

Steve references a lengthy article on the topic, one which is definitely worth the read, especially because as far as I’m aware, most of the academic literature on visualization and starting at 0 ignores line charts. The only work I’m familiar with is Cleveland, McGill, and McGill, who recommended banking to 45 degrees (and here’s an example of it in SAS).