Read, Interpret & Construct Box-and-Whisker Plots

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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

Box-and-whisker plots may be different than the other graphs you've learned about. Instead of showing the quantity of data, they help us figure out how spread out a set of data is. Learn how to make and read one, then test your skills with a short quiz.

What Is a Box-and-Whisker Plot?

Imagine for a second that you had two sets of data to display. However, there's a catch. The two sets of data in question actually demonstrate differences in the spread of data. For example, the first set has data that is widely and evenly distributed. On the other hand, the second data set has data that is clumped in the middle. So, how can you quickly offer a visual comparison that shows not only the data in question, but also the fact that the data has different shapes?

The easy solution is to use a box-and-whisker plot. A box-and-whisker plot demonstrates the range of the data in question, shows the median (the amount of variation in the data), and helps people figure out the difference between an outlier and a truly wide ranging set of data. An outlier is a point of data that is either really big or really small in comparison with the other data points. In this lesson, we will learn how to use box-and-whisker plots, interpret the data, and even make our own.

Parts of a Box-and-Whisker Plot

Let's start by looking at a typical box-and-whisker plot. Along the bottom, also called the X-axis, you'll notice numbers. As with any graph, these numbers indicate the values represented in the chart. However, whereas other charts and graphs have lines, bars, or even pie wedges, a box-and-whisker plot has a box with two lines coming off the sides. This is why it has the name box-and-whisker, because the box looks like it has whiskers. In effect, the chart is divided into four parts. The whiskers are obviously two of the four parts, but if you look at the box, you'll notice that there is a line that divides it in half. There is the right whisker, the right half of the box, the left half of the box, and the left whisker.

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