Interpreting Charts, Graphs & Tables

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  • 0:04 What Are Charts,…
  • 1:46 Other Parts of a…
  • 2:07 Reading a Pie Chart
  • 2:29 Reading a Line Graph
  • 3:31 Reading a Table
  • 4:22 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Michael Quist

Michael has taught college-level mathematics and sociology; high school math, history, science, and speech/drama; and has a doctorate in education.

Important information in the business and scientific world is often presented in various visual aids. In this lesson, we will discuss how to read and interpret charts, graphs, and tables.

What Are Charts, Graphs, and Tables?

'38%? I just can't get a feel for how much that really is!'

Pictures representing numbers sometimes help you to get a sense of what's going on with the numbers. You see the quantities in ways that help you understand the situation. For example, if you were asked to compare $45 to 23% of $200, which one would you say is larger? Well, 23% of $200 is $46, which is larger than $45, but a good picture of each would let you compare them more easily.

Although the word chart (which comes from the Latin charta, meaning 'paper') may refer to many kinds of documents, including maps, grids of numbers, and various kinds of displays, in math, it is usually used to define a visual picture of number relationships, such as a pie chart.

A graph (which comes from the Greek graphe, meaning 'writing') can be many things, but in math, it is generally a line drawn between data points, showing the shape that the points are forming. Like a chart, a graph is designed to give a picture of the numbers, making it easier to understand their relationship.

A table (which comes from Latin tabula, meaning 'flat, tablet, or list') is normally a structured set of numbers, in columns and rows that give an orderly way to look at the numbers. It is used to display facts and provides a way to look up specific numbers.

Reading and Interpreting

Charts, graphs, and tables will sometimes have a legend, which is like a code book to explain the information. For example, the legend might tell you the units (such as miles, dollars, or people) represented by the numbers, or what certain colors represent.

Other Parts of a Chart, Graph, or Table

Other parts found on a chart, graph, or table are the title, headings, and labels. The title is the name and includes brief description of what is being shown. The headings tell what is contained in a section of information, especially for columns and rows. The labels define specific sections or points of information.

Reading a Pie Chart

The Parliament pie chart again
pie chart

This pie chart shows the number of representatives from each political party in Canadian parliament in 2005. Notice that the labels tell us what each colored section represents and that the sections also have the number of representatives printed on them. From this chart, we can tell which parties had the most representation and how many representatives from each party were there.

Reading a Line Graph

The speed and time graph

This graph has no title, so we have to get our information from the other pieces to discover the relationship between the two axes. On the vertical axis on this graph, the speed (meters per second) is represented. On the horizontal axis, the time (in seconds) is displayed.

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