# What kind of graph/chart should I use?October 29, 2020 3:47 PM   Subscribe

I am writing a demographics paper for a graduate program I'm in, and I am not sure of the best way to graph several different variables. Talk to me like a child.

I am comparing neighborhoods in my city by private school enrollment rates, household median incomes, and public school ranking. I have 10 data points for each subject (this is the simple table I have come up with).

I could get away with using the data table I've already created, but I want to try to visualize the data better (I'm not trying to prove causality or anything). What I can't figure out is how to compare this many variables, which aren't measuring the same thing. If I should make multiple graphs, what do you suggest doing?

I am using Pages and Numbers.

posted by Corduroy to Science & Nature (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

It depends what you want to show.

One option is to draw a scatterplot of median income against private school enrollment, and then annotate each point with a label stating the rank, school name and neighborhood.

This would show the relationship between these variables, but not the geographical location of the districts. If there is a meaningful geographical position, you could draw two choropleth maps (one for private school enrollment, one for median income).

Another option is to keep the tabular structure, and add bars in the median income and private school enrollment columns (for an example of what I mean by bars in a table, see this example in Power BI).
posted by James Scott-Brown at 4:08 PM on October 29, 2020

Looks like a rank plus two numeric values per observation? I'd just put them into a line graph in rank order with two y-axes, which should demonstrate how the enrollment % and median income co-vary. Here's how to do it in Numbers.
posted by supercres at 4:08 PM on October 29, 2020

Well, my first question is what is your research question or hypothesis? I don't understand why you would want to visualize simple descriptive stats in anything other than a table (like the one you have) if you don't know what (if any) relationships you want to examine with the data. The suggestions above are fine but they showcase inferences that you may not want to make.
posted by Young Kullervo at 4:21 PM on October 29, 2020 [4 favorites]

The important thing to remember about graphs is that their purpose is always to make a point. And the choice of which graph to use depends on what point you're trying to make. If you're not trying to make a point, you can just present the data in a table -- but I assume that you are making a point in your paper. So, what does your paper argue?

For example, if you're trying to show that private school enrollment is correlated with household income, a scatterplot like James Scott-Brown suggested would be the right kind of graph to use.
posted by mekily at 4:25 PM on October 29, 2020 [5 favorites]

Sorry for the confusion, you're absolutely right. The table will work for the first half of the paper (simply analyzing, no argument), and the graphs will work for the next step in the paper (hypothesis, argument). So I'll use your suggestions for the next step. Thanks everyone!
posted by Corduroy at 4:30 PM on October 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

Minor but related point: consider sorting the table by something--either median income or school enrollment, presumably. It will make digesting the data much easier on your reader.
posted by mark k at 4:46 PM on October 29, 2020 [2 favorites]

neighborhoods in my city by private school enrollment rates, household median incomes, and public school ranking

I'd make a map and color neighborhoods by the income, then in each neighborhood have like a 5-star ranking for the public school and some similar sort of display for the private school enrollment rate (maybe like a pie-chart filled circle, or the size of the circle). Maybe even a pie-chart like circle for the public school ranking (different color than private enrollment and both outside the range of the income scale).
posted by zengargoyle at 6:36 PM on October 29, 2020

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