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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Visualize Your Data

A guide to visualizing your data using four common types of charts.

About this guide

The charts described in this guide are four of the most commonly used: bar charts, line charts, pie charts, and scatter plots. Even if you are familiar with making these charts, this guide can help you improve the design and clarity of your charts.

Each tab will explain how to make a successful chart, including what kinds of data you can show, common mistakes to avoid, and ways to improve the chart's accessibility.

The rest of this page provides some additional information and resources to learn more about data visualization.

Chart or graph?

You might have heard both "bar chart" and "bar graph" before and wondered how they are different. There is no difference! People certainly argue about the terms "chart" and "graph", but in these specific cases the words are interchangeable: bar chart or bar graph, line chart or line graph, pie chart or pie graph. We have chosen to use "chart" throughout this guide for the sake of consistency.

Scatter plots, of course, don't have either "chart" or "graph" in the name, but we also refer to them as a kind of chart in this guide.

Resources for making charts

Visit the Scholarly Commons website to find more information about:

  • Visualization tools and software that are free or available in the Scholarly Commons
  • Other ways to learn data visualization techniques
  • Campus resources related to data visualization

After reviewing this guide, you also may be ready to explore other visualization options. The following websites have information about additional kinds of charts, and they can help you choose the right chart for your project.

Related library guides

As you work with your data, you may find these other library guides useful.


Creative Commons License

Except where otherwise indicated, original content in this guide is licensed under a  Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) 4.0 license. You are free to share, adopt, or adapt the materials. We encourage broad adoption of these materials for teaching and other professional development purposes, and invite you to customize them for your own needs.