Plot with useless grid lines, colors without significance, and curious sort order of bars

Let’s take a look at a plot from a survey conducted by DigitalWarRoom, its “2015 Ediscovery IQ Meter.” On page 12 of the report, which was published in July 2105, there is a plot that looks quite similar to the plot below. (The reproduction does not have tiny tick marks on the horizontal axis placed at the ends of the axis and between the vertical bars nor does it match the green color gradient of the bars.) Nevertheless, we can draw from it a few lessons in graphical presentation.

Rplot01 Digital green

First, if you label for bars with values, such as the four percentages on top of the four bars, you don’t gain anything from horizontal grid lines. In truth, you clutter the plot. Even odder, the vertical y-axis has no values so the reader can’t even calibrate lines to values!

Second, although the plot above does not show how the original has each bar with the same gradient of darker green at the bottom gradually changing hue to a lighter gree

n (or white) at the top of the bar, it still conveys the lack of meaning derived from a color scheme for the bars. Color should not be splashed on graphics unless it serves a purpose.


Third, this graph sorts the bars from high on the left to low on the right, but that is not the most sensible sort. Most people would read left to right and assume “Not prepared” would be the first bar, “Somewhat prepared” would be to its right, “Prepared” and then “Very prepared” on the right. As it is, the eye has to hopscotch around to make sense of the progression of preparedness.

What would an improved plot look like?



Attractive spacing and width of bars on plots; informative labels

Returning once again to the same plot from the Winston & Strawn survey report, but shifting from criticism, we should praise several aspects of the original plot.

Screenshot (6)_snip Winston pg19

The somewhat-narrow width of the bars makes a more appealing impression than when bars are thick and therefore tightly packed shoulder to shoulder. Compare the version below where thick bars put more ink on the plot, but offer no more insights or clarity.


Similarly, the spacing between the bars helps a reader take in the message of the plot, and better than very narrow lines. The version above takes away that spacing although it adds around each box a frame colored black to clarify individual bars. This is not an improvement!


Third, the labels for each risk element are clearly written and spelled out on the left, vertical axis. An alternative choice could have been placing the text above the bars. The plot below shows labels on top of the bars.

Rplot label over bars


Fourth the plot takes up most of the page and has been placed squarely in the middle of it and therefore becomes the obvious focus of attention.