How Histograms Work


The histogram is one of my favorite basic chart types, because it lets you quickly see the shape and distribution of a dataset. However, a lot of people don’t know what a histogram shows or how the chart works.

This is a guide for that. Because seeing distributions is way more interesting than means and medians, which oftentimes overgeneralize.

Start with some random data. We don’t care what the data is about right now. All you need to know is that darker dots represent higher values, and lighter dots represent lower values. The positions of the dots are random and don’t mean anything.

Given the random positions, it’s tough to make out any patterns in the data. Are there more data points on the low end or on the high end? What about values in the middle?

A straightforward thing to do: Line up all the dots in increasing order from left to right. You get something that looks like a gradient and takes up a lot of horizontal space.

It’s still not obvious how frequently different values appear. You could count, but that defeats the purpose of visualizing the data. Just make a table if you’re going to count.

How about if you put dots with…

Sasha Harriet

Sasha Harriet

As content editor, I get to do what I love everyday. Tweet, share and promote the best content our tools find on a daily basis.

I have a crazy passion for #music, #celebrity #news & #fashion! I'm always out and about on Twitter.
Sasha Harriet

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