Types of graphics used in business reports

by Lee Hopkins on August 15, 2011 · 1 comment

in nonverbal communication,tools

Image courtesy of geekandpoke.typepad.com

THERE IS a range of different graphic elements that can be used to convey information in business reports.

Each has its own particular strength and weakness—the job of the report writer is to pick the best tool for the job. The table below compares the different types.

Graphic Advantage Disadvantage
Table Allows comparisons between large amounts of data Difficult to read and to connect data quickly
Diagram Emphasises details with simple representation, plus can show a cross-section It is easy to miss the main point if the diagram becomes too cluttered with detail
Line graph Clearly indicates trends and movement in data Inappropriate labels and scales can make it difficult to interpret
Column or vertical bar graph Greatly simplifies comparisons between data items or time periods Proportions and sizes can make interpretation difficult
Gantt chart Clearly indicates critical activities, timelines, major achievements and progress If too many elements (e.g. tasks, details) are grouped together it can make the chart hard to read and interpret
Dot graph Quickly and easily conveys values The graphs are awkward to read unless they progress from the largest down to the smallest figure
Pie chart Great at showing the relative proportions and importance of each element to the whole data unit It can be difficult to accurately judge the difference in sizes, especially when 3D formatting is used
Photograph and illustration Can immediately convey and impact Can be difficult to see the point if too much detail is present
Map Can show a large amount of detail Can be hard to read if it is highly detailed, poorly coloured or the scales, legends and labels are not clear


Non-verbal communication

Effective graphics clarify messages, simplify them for easier and quicker consumption, and convey specific messages for specific purposes. The next time you are compiling a report, pick the right graphic tool for the job.

  • Allan Jenkins

    What you are missing is the thought process: “I have data. The data tells me something. I need to convert that message into a chart. Which chart then, and how much detail?”

    In my seminars, I spend a lot of time coaching people on “message finding” instead of “I need a chart on sales.” Once they have a “hard” message, finding the right chart form is pretty easy. (And, interestingly, finding the specific message often makes the chart redundant.)

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