What Type of Graph Is Better for Categorical Data?


Larry Thompson

What Type of Graph Is Better for Categorical Data?

When it comes to visualizing categorical data, choosing the right type of graph can greatly impact how effectively you communicate your message. In this article, we will explore some common types of graphs and discuss their strengths and weaknesses when it comes to representing categorical data.

Bar Graphs

Bar graphs are a popular choice for displaying categorical data as they provide a clear visual representation of the different categories and their respective values. Each category is represented by a separate bar, and the height of each bar corresponds to the value it represents.


  • Easy to interpret: The height of each bar makes it easy to compare values between different categories.
  • Flexible: Bar graphs can be used to compare multiple categories simultaneously or display changes over time using grouped or stacked bars.


  • Suitable for discrete data: Bar graphs work well when dealing with discrete or countable categories, but they may not be suitable for continuous data.

Pie Charts

Pie charts are commonly used when you want to show the proportion of each category in relation to the whole. The entire pie represents 100% of the data, and each slice represents a specific category.


  • Show proportions: Pie charts are excellent at illustrating the relative sizes of different categories within a dataset.
  • Easily understandable: The circular shape is familiar and intuitive, making it easy for viewers to grasp the distribution at a glance.


  • Not suitable for large datasets: Pie charts become less effective when dealing with a large number of categories as the slices can become too small to differentiate.
  • Difficult to compare values: It can be challenging to accurately compare values between different categories in a pie chart.

Line Graphs

While line graphs are commonly used for showing trends over time, they can also be used to display categorical data. In this case, the x-axis represents the different categories, and the y-axis represents the values associated with each category.


  • Show changes over time: Line graphs excel at demonstrating trends and changes in categorical data over time.
  • Easily readable: The continuous line makes it easy to follow the progression of values across different categories.


  • Not suitable for all categorical data: Line graphs work best when dealing with ordinal or interval data, where there is a logical order or meaningful distance between categories.
  • Limited use for nominal data: When dealing with nominal categorical data (categories without an inherent order), other graph types may be more appropriate.


Selecting the right type of graph for your categorical data is crucial for effectively conveying your message. Bar graphs are versatile and easy to interpret, making them suitable for most situations.

Pie charts are ideal when emphasizing proportions. Line graphs work well when visualizing trends or changes over time. Consider your specific needs and choose the graph type that best suits your dataset and communication goals.

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