Not every graph and chart accurately represents the data behind it. Watch for these clues to investigate further.
Check the axes and labels before drawing conclusions. Charts with missing, inaccurate, or selective labeling can give misleading impressions about data behind them. For example, an axis that isn’t labeled consistently or starts at a seemingly arbitrary number could misrepresent the effect the chart is trying to illustrate.
Watch out for overly complicated charts or visualizations. Often called “chartjunk,” unnecessary visual elements—such as extra illustrations, icons, visual effects, or other ornamentation—can be misleading or distract from more relevant information. For example, 3-D pie charts are often misleading because of the viewing angle necessary to create the three-dimensional effect: the slice that appears closest to the viewer could be visually larger than a statistically larger slice that appears further away.
Look for context. A single, isolated data point—such as median prices, percentage increases, or counts—can lack context to explain whether it’s part of a trend or outlier. Before drawing conclusions from isolated figures, look for more data to place it in proper context. For example, a dramatic increase in a statistic could signal the start of a new trend or be part of a seasonal effect, which would be apparent if you had data from the same time period for previous years.