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Graphs are a good means of describing, exploring or summarising numerical data because the use of a visual image can simplify complex information and help to highlight patterns and trends in the data. They are a particularly effective way of presenting a large amount of data but can also be used instead of a table to present smaller datasets. There are many different graph types to choose from and a critical issue is to ensure that the graph type selected is the most appropriate for the data. Having done this, it is then essential to ensure that the design and presentation of the graph help the reader or audience interpret the data.

A summary of the types of data that can be presented in the most common types of graphs is provided below and this is followed by some general guidelines for designing readily understandable graphs. There is more detailed information on the uses and good design of particular types of graph in the companion study guides covering bar charts, histograms, pie charts, line graphs and scatter plots available from the Student Learning Centre.