Tools for Presenting Data

Graphs can help you to quickly and more clearly understand data, draw inferences about data patterns, and see whether changes have led to improvement. When creating graphic displays of data, it is important to keep in mind what you are trying to communicate and to pay attention to labeling key information that will help others to understand the data.  Disaggregating data by important factors, such as sex, age, or location, can also help to show key differences and patterns that need to be addressed in improvement work.

The type of data you are working with will determine what types of graphs you may want to use to illustrate your data. Discrete data can be counted or classified in a finite number of categories, for example the percentage of children whose well-being score was “good”, “bad”, or “fair”. Continuous data are measurements on a continuum or scale, such as time, cost, length, weight, or temperature. A particular set of continuous data has a minimum and a maximum value that define the range of possible values.    

A number of data presentation tools can facilitate the work of improvement teams and are useful at different points in an improvement effort. The table below describes different purposes of data displays and which data display tools may be most appropriate for each purpose.

Considerations for choosing data display tools

Purpose is to show:

Display tool to use:

Data needed to use the tool:

Frequency of occurrence

Bar chart

Pie chart

Pareto chart

Tallies by category (data that can be put into categories or continuous measurement data divided into categories)

Trends over time

Time series chart

Measurements shown in chronological order (either counts or percentages)

Distribution of a single variable (variation not related to time)


Measurements on a continuous scale

Association between two things

Scatter diagrams

Paired data (that is, two pieces of information about the thing being analyzed), each on a continuous scale


The links below provide basic descriptions of each data display tool, when to use it, and how to use it.