Which Type of Chart Is Best for Categorical Data?


Heather Bennett

In the world of data visualization, choosing the right type of chart is key to effectively represent categorical data. While there are several options available, each with its own strengths and weaknesses, it’s important to consider the nature of your data and the message you want to convey.

Bar Chart

A bar chart is a common choice for displaying categorical data. It uses rectangular bars to represent each category and their respective values. The length of each bar corresponds to the value it represents.

This type of chart is particularly useful when comparing different categories or showing changes over time. It allows for easy visual comparison between categories and can accommodate multiple subcategories within each main category.

Pie Chart

A pie chart is a circular representation of categorical data where each category is shown as a slice of the pie. The size of each slice corresponds to its proportionate value in relation to the whole.

Pie charts are great for illustrating the composition or distribution of a dataset. They are especially useful when dealing with percentages or parts-to-whole relationships. However, they can become cluttered and hard to interpret if there are too many categories or small differences in values.

Line Chart

A line chart is often used to display categorical data over time. It consists of points connected by lines, with each point representing a specific category and its corresponding value at a given time point.

This type of chart is ideal for showing trends or patterns in categorical data. It allows for easy identification of changes over time and provides a clear visual representation of how values evolve within different categories.

Stacked Bar Chart

A stacked bar chart combines multiple bar charts into one, where each bar is divided into segments representing different subcategories within a main category. The height of each segment corresponds to its value within the subcategory.

Stacked bar charts are great for comparing the total value of different categories while also showcasing the contribution of each subcategory. They are useful for visualizing both categorical and quantitative data simultaneously.


When it comes to categorical data, there is no one-size-fits-all chart type. The choice ultimately depends on the specific dataset and the story you want to tell.

A bar chart is ideal for comparing categories and showing changes over time. A pie chart works well when highlighting proportions or parts-to-whole relationships.

A line chart is perfect for visualizing trends or patterns over time. And finally, a stacked bar chart is great for comparing both overall values and subcategory contributions.

By understanding the strengths and limitations of each chart type, you can effectively communicate your categorical data and make your visuals engaging and informative.

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