When you create a graph, you step through a series of choices, including which type of graph you should use and several aspects of its appearance. Most people walk through these choices as if they were sleepwalking, with only a vague sense at best of what works, of why one choice is better than another. Without guiding principles rooted in a clear understanding of graph design, choices are arbitrary and the resulting communication fails in a way that can be costly to the business. To communicate effectively using graphs, you must understand the nature of the data, graphing conventions and a bit about visual perception - not only what works and what doesn't, but why.

This month's column focuses on the nature of quantitative information. Graphs display quantitative information: numbers that measure performance, predict the future and identify opportunities. The nature of quantitative information varies in some fundamental ways that tie directly to some of the choices you must make when graphing that information.

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