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What is an Area Chart? - Definition & Examples

Instructor: Betsy Chesnutt

Betsy teaches college physics, biology, and engineering and has a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering

Area charts are one way to visually represent quantities that change over time. They can show how just one quantity changes, or show the changes in many quantities. In this lesson, learn about the different types of area charts and how to interpret them.

What Is an Area Chart?

If you were a teacher and wanted a way to quickly and easily visualize how well the students in your class were doing over the course of the year, how would you do it? One way would be to show the average exam scores throughout the course on an area chart.

An area chart represents the change in one or more quantities over time. It is similar to a line graph. In both area charts and line graphs, data points are plotted and then connected by line segments to show the value of a quantity at several different times. Area charts are different from line graphs, however, because the area between the x axis and the line is filled in with color or shading.

This area chart shows the change in test scores in a class over time
area chart of test scores

Area charts are a good choice to use when you want to show a trend over time, but aren't as concerned with showing exact values. In the area chart of the exam scores, you can see that the scores are generally increasing over time even without knowing the exact scores on any single exam.

Stacked Area Charts

Sometimes, you may need to represent how several quantities combine to make a whole. A stacked area chart is great at this! A stacked area chart shows how much each part contributes to the whole amount. For example, the owner of a chain of grocery stores might want to make a chart showing the profit made by each of his stores and the total profit made by all the stores together. A stacked area chart would be perfect for representing this kind of data.

This area chart shows the profits made by a chain of grocery stores over a six month period. The contribution of each store to the total profit is shown in a different color.
area chart of grocery store profits

Although area charts are most commonly used to show overall trends in data over time, you can also make a stacked area chart that explicitly shows the exact contribution of each quantity to the total.

The grocery store owner could modify his stacked area chart showing store profits to include numbers that show how much money was made by EACH store every month. This would show him that Store 4 was the most profitable during most months, making a total profit of $10,000 during the month of June.

Area charts can also show more detailed information, such as this one that shows exactly how much money was made by each store each month.
area chart of grocery store profit with detailed information

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