Which Type of Data Is Best Display in a Histogram?


Larry Thompson

When it comes to visualizing data, histograms are a powerful tool that can effectively represent the distribution of numerical data. However, not all types of data are suitable for display in a histogram. In this article, we will explore which types of data are best displayed using histograms and why.

What is a Histogram?

A histogram is a graphical representation of data that uses bars to display the frequency distribution of a dataset. The x-axis represents different categories or intervals, while the y-axis represents the frequency or count of observations falling into each category.

Continuous Data

Continuous data is best displayed in histograms. Continuous data refers to measurements that can take on any value within a specific range.

Examples include height, weight, temperature, and time. Histograms are particularly useful for visualizing continuous data because they allow us to see how the values are distributed across different intervals.


To illustrate this, let’s consider an example where we want to analyze the distribution of heights in a population. We can collect height measurements from individuals and group them into intervals (e.g., 150-160cm, 160-170cm, etc.). By plotting these intervals on the x-axis and representing the frequency of individuals falling into each interval on the y-axis, we can create a histogram that shows us how heights are distributed across different ranges.

Categorical Data

Categorical data, also known as qualitative or nominal data, refers to variables that represent categories or groups rather than numerical values. Examples include gender (male/female), occupation (doctor/engineer/teacher), and favorite color (red/blue/green). Histograms are not suitable for displaying categorical data because there is no inherent order or measurement scale associated with these variables.

Alternative Visualization:

For categorical data, other visualizations like bar charts or pie charts are more appropriate. Bar charts can represent the frequency or count of each category using rectangular bars, while pie charts can display the proportion of each category as a slice of a circle.

Discrete Data

Discrete data consists of separate values or categories with no intermediate values. Examples include the number of siblings, the number of cars in a parking lot, or the number of students in a classroom. Histograms can be used to visualize discrete data by grouping the values into intervals or bins.


Suppose we want to analyze the distribution of ages in a sample population. We can group the ages into intervals (e., 0-10 years, 10-20 years, etc.) and create a histogram that shows us how many individuals fall into each age interval.


In conclusion, histograms are most effective for visualizing continuous and discrete data that can be grouped into intervals. They provide a clear and concise representation of how data is distributed across different ranges. However, histograms are not suitable for displaying categorical data, which is better represented using bar charts or pie charts.

To summarize:

  • Histograms are best for continuous and discrete data: Use histograms to visualize numerical variables that can be grouped into intervals.
  • Avoid using histograms for categorical data: Categorical variables are better represented using bar charts or pie charts.

By understanding which types of data are best displayed in histograms, you can effectively communicate insights and patterns hidden within your datasets.

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