Summary Recommendations

12 Tips on How to Display Data Badly

Adapted from Wainer H.  How to Display Data Badly.  The American Statistician 1984; 38: 137-147. 

  1. Show as few data as possible
  2. Hide what data you do show; minimize the data-ink ratio
  3. Ignore the visual metaphor altogether
  4. Only order matters
  5. Graph data out of context
  6. Change scales in mid-axis
  7. Emphasize the trivial;  ignore the important
  8. Jiggle the baseline
  9. Alphabetize everything.
  10. Make your labels illegible, incomplete, incorrect, and ambiguous.
  11. More is murkier: use a lot of decimal places and make your graphs three dimensional whenever possible.
  12. If it has been done well in the past, think of another way to do it

Additional Resources

  1. Stephen Few: Designing Effective Tables and Graphs.
  2. Gary Klaas: Presenting Data: Tabular and graphic display of social indicators. Illinois State University, 2002. (Note: The web site will be discontinued to be replaced by the Just Plain Data Analysis site).