Reading & Interpreting Pictographs

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  • 0:01 What is a Pictograph?
  • 0:43 How to Use a Pictograph
  • 1:23 Reading a Pictograph
  • 2:04 More Advanced Pictographs
  • 2:49 Making a Pictograph
  • 4:22 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught history, and has an MA in Islamic law/finance. He has since founded his own financial advice firm, Newton Analytical.

Imagine reading chart after chart of the same dry information. Now imagine if that information could be presented with images and in only one chart. Much better, right? That's exactly what pictographs allow us to do.

What Is a Pictograph?

When we make charts, we often need to express the numbers behind the charts in a way that really hits home with our audience. Imagine that you were explaining how many more pieces of pizza your older cousin ate than you did. You could say that your cousin had six pieces of pizza while you only had two, and you could show the numbers six and two in the relevant parts of a chart.

However, is that likely to make your audience really remember it? Is it enough to help them visualize that it is your cousin's fault that there is no pizza left over for a midnight snack? In this situation, a pictograph could be your best friend. A pictograph is a graph that shows quantities using pictures.

How to Use a Pictograph

It may sound like a pictograph is only for kindergartners, but the fact is that even advanced business and science articles use them because they are sticky and easy to understand. If they say a picture is worth a thousand words, then a pictograph is no exception.

Let's say that someone made a pictograph showing how many pieces of pizza you and your cousin ate. Next to your name, there would be two pieces of pizza. Meanwhile, next to your cousin's name, there would be six. That's three times as many pieces of pizza! As you can tell from the images, it's a big difference, and one that you are not likely to forget.

Reading a Pictograph

While I think you've probably gotten the hang of it already, let's make sure we all understand how to read a pictograph. First of all, figure out what is being compared. It sounds pretty basic, but you want to make sure that you know what all the symbols mean. After all, while slices of pizza are pretty self-explanatory, it still pays to be sure.

Also, some pictographs may compare different goods. Using traditional charts, you would need to have different charts for pizza eating and for ice cream eating. In a pictograph, you can include pizza slices and ice cream cones on the same chart! Once you've made sure you know what the symbols stand for, simply look at the entry for each.

More Advanced Pictographs

Let's say that your brother was in on the pizza eating as well. Sure, your cousin had six pieces, but your brother was a real pig and ate 12! It might not be so practical to show 12 pieces of pizza on one chart. As such, pictographs often have different symbols to represent different quantities.

For example, you may have two slices of pizza, your cousin may have six, and your brother may have a pizza box plus four slices. Some graphs may even represent that as a pizza box and a half. In fact, you could make it even bigger - imagine having to compare your family's pizza consumption with that of a whole soccer team! In that case, it may be better to show a pizza delivery car to signify multiple pizzas. In other words, you can have a great deal of information on one chart.

Making a Pictograph

Let's say that you are going to make a pictograph. Before you start drawing, let's take a look at what you have to compare. In this case, let's compare how many movies you and your friends saw in theaters with the number of movies you all watched at home.

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