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Represent data broken out by components with a cascading column chart

A useful way to display data that should be broken out by components, such as a law department’s spending, is by means of a cascading bar chart. The components look like stair steps of different heights.

Think of a column to the far left of the chart for, say, base compensation. To the right of that column is another column but it floats above. Its bottom is on a horizontal line from the top of the bar to the left. This second, higher column might show incentive compensation and bonuses. To the right of it, floating at the point where the incentive compensation column ends is yet a third column, which might depict the value of long-term options or benefits, and so on.

Marching across the chart from left to right, therefore, are a series of floating columns. The height of each gives its amount and the composite of all those columns shows in this example the total spend.

A stacked column can handle three or four components but a floating column chart works better where there are many components of varying sizes (See my two posts of Oct. 1, 2006 on graphics and visual techniques; and Dec. 9, 2005 on data visualization software.).

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