I was studying this serious infographic - external link on the multimedia section of the Eyewitness News website – charting civilian casualties in the Afghanistan conflict from 2009 to 2016 – and was baffled that the graphic design failed to highlight the interim reporting of the data (January to June).
To anyone that wants to study the data critically, those intervals would be important.
Also, the bar chart misrepresents the data by showing that the total number of casualties is more than what they actually are.
EWN bar graph: Afghanistan’s mounting civilian casualties
EWN bar graph misrepresents some data
How could one chart gaps in the data?
I wondered why would someone report on ’missing data’? But if that’s the task, then one needs to approach the graph design differently.
Bar graphs are appropriate to chart a time-series, like this data. However, this graph design makes it look like a continuum of variables, which it is not (data is from January to June each year).
Graphs is a series of small multiples
One possible solution is to combine graphs in a series of small multiples, as Edward Tutfe - external link, the man the New York Times calls
The da Vinci of data, describes them:
The advantage of using a series of smaller graphs:
- Makes it clear that there’s missing data (July to December)
- Makes it easier to compare the different years
To me, the exact number labels can be eliminated – unnecessary data ink - external link – as what’s most important is to show the trend, thereby creating a simpler presentation.