A chart is used to display data and further explore a topic where tabular data will not adequately demonstrate meaningful relationships or patterns between data points. Bar charts and column charts are the most commonly used charts to track changes over time between different groups.

The Difference Between Bar Chart and Column Chart

Both the Bar and the Column charts display data using rectangular bars where the length of the bar is proportional to the data value. Both charts compare two or more values. However, the difference lies in their orientation. A bar chart is oriented horizontally, whereas a column chart is oriented vertically. Although alike, they cannot always be used interchangeably because of the difference in their orientation.

Example of Bar Chart

Figure: Bar chart

Example of Column Chart

Figure: Column chart

When to Use Bar Chart vs. Column Chart

Bar charts are suitable for displaying long data labels.

Column charts have limited space in the category axis. So, when your data labels are long, the category axis may look cluttered.

Column chart with limited space in the category axis

You can reduce clutter by either slanting or rotating the labels.

Column chart with slanting or rotating labels

However, using the bar chart will significantly improve the readability of your chart.

Bar chart displaying long data labels

Bar charts are good for displaying a large number of data sets on the category axis.

The column chart is a good fit for a maximum of 10-12 data sets. However, using a column chart is not the best way forward when large numbers of data sets are needed.

Column chart with many data sets

A bar chart with the data sets placed one below the other would be a better choice in this case as it makes optimum use of space.

Bar chart with many data sets

Column charts are suitable for displaying data sets with negative values.

In a bar chart, negative values are displayed as bars on the left.

Bar chart with negative values

However, we associate negative values with the downward direction (as used by the column chart) than leftward (as used by the bar chart).

Column chart with negative values

Therefore, use the column chart when you have negative values in your data set.

In conclusion, while the column chart is helpful to facilitate all comparison-based analysis, it is better to use the bar chart when your data labels are long, or you have too many data sets to display.

Keep watching this space for more insights on charting best practices.

Happy Charting till next time 🙂

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11 responses on “Choosing the Right Chart Type: Bar Charts vs. Column Charts

  1. The bar chart with the negative values are more effective

    • Hi John,

      As mentioned in the post, column charts would have better visualization when compared to bar charts and for comparison based analysis. Do share your thoughts on why bar chars seems to be more effective.

  2. Hi
    here i am using the basic version of fusion chart
    and is this posible to set a legends in pie chart with out comparison
    and in attribute the legends options are workimg or not

  3. i use column chart design for ax report in visual studio 2010
    i put many question in visual studio and ax Forms
    but nothing help me to when i have one column it be very large
    i want to control the width of columns
    this problem take a lot of time
    any help please

  4. Column charts are good for displaying data sets with negative values

  5. The column chart is definitely a better option for showing negative information, he looks much clearer to the audience. I do like the bar chart when there is a lot of data to communicate its easier to read. Both have pros and cons

  6. Normally I do not learn article on blogs, however I wish to say that this write-up very forced me to try and do
    so! Your writing taste has been surprised me.
    Thank you, very great article.

    • Thanks Cleta!

      Your kind words will help us push our initiatives to create awareness around data visualization.

  7. Excellent ExplainAtion?

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