#SWDchallenge: basic bars

If I could only use a single graph forever forward, it would be a bar chart. It's sort of like that exercise: if you were stranded on a deserted island and could only bring a single book to read or only have one type of food to eat from then on out—what would it be? (Easy: The Great Gatsby and peanut butter toast). Is it a realistic scenario? No (I'd have my Kindle with me and likely not an endless supply of PB and bread...or electricity...or a toaster). Would I get sick of my choices? Probably. Would it work all of the time? No. But I really do have an affinity for stories about the Jazz Age and peanut butter toast.

I also really like bar charts.

Bars are my go-to graph for a number of reasons. They are common. While this might be cause for some to avoid, this is one of my top reasons for embracing: your audience already knows how to read a bar chart, so you don't face a learning curve for getting your information across. They are not intimidating—you aren't likely to scare anyone with a bar chart. Bar charts are also easy for us to read. When we look at a bar chart, our eyes compare the ends of the bars relative to each other and relative to the axis. Because of the alignment to a consistent baseline, it's easy to see which category is the largest, which is the smallest, and also the incremental difference between categories. Note that for the visual comparison to be accurate, bar charts must have a zero baseline (read more). Bar charts can be vertical (also known as a column chart) or horizontal (great use case: if category names are long—allows you to orient text in a legible fashion, avoiding slow-to-read diagonal text that would be needed if you stick with vertical orientation). Below is an example of each from storytelling with data:

Basic Bars - Vertical.png
Basic Bars - Horizontal.png

The #SWDchallenge this month is to create a basic bar chart. Nothing fancy. No need to stack it or do anything else crazy. Have you made a bar chart before? Probably. But here is an opportunity to focus on making your best bar chart yet. Find some data and teach us all something new. While not a strict requirement, I do encourage you to look to the prior challenges when it comes to annotating and thoughtful use of color and words (including the takeaway title!)—these bar charts are meant to inform, so those important lessons will apply here as well. DEADLINE: Wednesday, 3/7 by midnight PST. Specific submission details follow.


  • Make it. Identify your data and create your visual with the tool of your choice. If you need help finding data, check out this list of publicly available data sources. You're also welcome to use a real work example if you'd like, just please don't share anything confidential.
  • Share it. Email your entry to SWDchallenge@storytellingwithdata.com by the deadline. Attach your image as a .PNG. Put any commentary you’d like included in my follow up post in the body of the email (e.g. what tool you used, any notes on your methods or thought process you’d like to share); if there’s a social media profile or blog/site you’d like mentioned, please embed the links directly in your commentary (e.g. Blog | Twitter). If you’re going to write more than a paragraph or so, I encourage you to post it externally and provide a link or summary for inclusion here. Feel free to also share on social media at any point using #SWDchallenge.
  • The fine print. I reserve the right to post and potentially reuse examples shared.

I look forward to seeing your beautiful bars! Stay tuned for the recap post in the second half of March.

Check out the #SWDchallenge page for all of the monthly challenges and recaps!