Why You Shouldn't Use Pie Charts in Excel

Copy of New Blog Post Format-2-2.png

Overview

Pie charts are a regular feature of most dashboards and reports, but that doesn't make them great for displaying data. Here are 5 reasons why you should stop using pie charts in your analysis.


1. It’s hard to visually compare segments

If you have two segments on a pie chart that are similar in value, it’s not easy to tell which is the larger value. In the below chart, for example which of France and Italy is larger? 

An alternative is to use a column or bar chart, which makes it much easier to distinguish between similar values.

Can you tell the difference between France and Italy on this chart?

Can you tell the difference between France and Italy on this chart?

It’s much easier to visualise values using a bar chart.

It’s much easier to visualise values using a bar chart.


2. More than 2 categories makes a mess

Pie charts are just about passable if you’re just trying to show 2 data values against each other, but any more than this just makes hard work for the reader to guess values and proportions.

Please don't ever create a pie chart like this!

Please don't ever create a pie chart like this!


If this is the case you should question if a pie chart is really the best way to display your data. A simple bar chart may be a much better solution. 


3. They are unable to show trending

A pie chart can only show a metric at a specific point in time - and to show another time period would require showing two pie charts side by side. This is a huge waste of space on the page, and makes hard work for the reader to tell the difference between the two time periods.

Can you tell the difference between June and July using two pie charts?

Can you tell the difference between June and July using two pie charts?

Much better is to either use a clustered bar/column chart (for a small number of data points), or a line chart where there’s a longer data trend to analyse.

A much easier way to see trends or comparisons between time periods.

A much easier way to see trends or comparisons between time periods.

Use a line chart for longer time periods

Use a line chart for longer time periods


4. Pie charts are one dimensional

It might seem obvious - but a pie chart can only show a single measure across different categories. If you have 2 metrics to show, a scatter diagram can be a more effective way to show two metrics across multiple categories.

A scatter chart can show two metrics rather than just one on a pie chart.

A scatter chart can show two metrics rather than just one on a pie chart.


5. They're a waste of valuable space

Above all, pie charts take up a large amount of space on any report or dashboard, but offers very little data insight in return. You can easily show clearer, more informative charts using other chart types


This view that pie charts are not a great way to visualise data is widely shared across the analytics community, and in a professional environment we’re seeing pie charts used less and less in corporate data analysis.

Get More Exclusive Content

Sent Directly to your inbox with Excel 3 Tip Friday. A weekly dose of Functions shortcuts and tips for getting more out of Excel.

We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit