The power of a graph lies in its ability to convey a variety of complex relationships in a way that is difficult to describe in words, but is easily comprehended from a picture. When designing a graph, consider these points:

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 3

  • Avoid fussy, excessively complicated graph design;
  • Don’t use 3D graphs. They are usually harder to interpret and more cluttered than 2D graphs (see Figure 1);
  • Reduce clutter by removing key borders and gridlines (see Figure 1b);
  • Avoid bold shading or cross hatching which can cause distracting visual effects (Figure 2);
  • Use colour and shading sparingly as it distracts from the message;
  • Avoid graph designs that use keys. Where keys are unavoidable, use the simplest key available (Figure 1b);
  • When adding text, use plain English, and avoid jargon and repetition. In addition, use the same typeface as the graph (preferably a sans serif font), avoid fancy lettering and fonts, don’t mix upper and lower case lettering, and don’t box the text;
  • Where several graphs are used for similar types of information use, where possible, the same scales on the x– and y-axes; and
  • Where practicable avoid truncating the axes, unless it will inform rather than mislead the reader (Figure 3).