Whether at school or work, I’m you’ve used bar charts or histograms to present complex data in an easy-to-understand format.
These charts are loved for their simplicity, clarity, and are widely used to share financial or sales analysis, market research, or ensure quality control.
And though they may look really similar, bar graphs and histograms actually have different use cases.
So how can you determine when to use one over the other?
In this post, I’ll go over what a bar chart and histogram are and then do a breakdown of bar charts vs histograms or histogram vs bar graph to help you understand the similarities and differences.
Let’s get started!
Note: Some of our bar chart templates are free to use and some require a small monthly fee. Sign-up is always free, as is access to Venngage’s online drag-and-drop editor.
Click to jump ahead:
- What is a bar chart?
- What is a histogram?
- What is the difference between a histogram and a bar graph?
- How to create a bar chart with Venngage
What is a bar chart?
Here’s an example:
When should you use a bar chart?
Bar charts work best when you want to compare and display data across different categories.
Here are some situations where you’ll want to pick a bar chart:
Compare and contrast data
If you want to compare data or values associated with different categories, a bar chart is a natural go-to choice.
The rectangular bars of various lengths and heights make it easy to visualize and evaluate differences at a quick glance.
Trying to track changes or trends over time?
Well, you’ll want to go with a bar chart as it lets you plot data over time to see changes.
The use of bars allows easy identification of patterns, shifts, or fluctuations. Also, you can enhance your analysis by using colors or trend lines to highlight the direction and magnitude of changes.
This makes a bar graph the perfect tool for tracking sales figures, market trends, or any other time-based data.
Visualize qualitative data
Besides numbers, bar charts can also help you visualize qualitative data.
For example, let’s say you wanted to present global access to HIV treatment.
Well, with a bar chart, you can actually use qualitative points such as those who had access and those who didn’t and plot it on a chart. The height of the bar would then represent the frequency.
Advantages and limitations of bar charts
Although bar charts are useful at times, they do have limitations as well.
By recognizing their advantages and limitations, you will be able to make better decisions when picking a type of chart.
Let’s take a look:
- Easy to understand
Bar charts provide an easy-to-understand visual representation of data. The presence of bars makes it simple to compare different categories or variables.
- Flexible presentation options
With many types of bar graphs, such as vertical, horizontal, and stacked bar charts, there are endless ways to present your data.
- Less effective for large datasets
As the number of categories or data points increases, the bars can become crowded and make it challenging to interpret or compare the data accurately.
- Lack of preciseness
The lengths of a bar only give a general sense of relative values and are not exact numerical measurements. This makes it hard to make precise comparisons between different bars.
What is a histogram?
A histogram is a visual representation of the distribution of data.
It consists of adjacent rectangular bars, where the width of each bar represents a range of values, and the height of the bar represents the frequency or the data.
They look almost exactly like a bar graph, so it’s easy to get confused.
Here’s an example:
In histogram terminology, this range of values is referred to as equal intervals or bins, with each interval representing a bar on the histogram.
When should you use a histogram?
Histograms are useful when dealing with continuous data or when data points are limited to a numerical range.
For example, temperature readings, time measurements, and weight measurements are all types of continuous data.
Here are some scenarios where a histogram is the better choice:
Ever faced a scenario where you need to understand the shape of data?
This is a common situation in various professions such as finance, insurance, and market research.
For example, let’s say a financial analyst wants to analyze the shape of data related to stock returns in terms of a normal, skewed, or another distribution pattern to analyze portfolio performance and measure risk assessment.
Well, there’s no better way than a histogram.
In this example, a histogram helps scientists determine the average height of two different varieties of wheat.
Histograms are also extremely useful in any type of statistical analysis work.
By providing a visual representation of data, it becomes easy to spot patterns and variability, allowing for more informed decision-making.
For example, a government agency may use a histogram to analyze the distribution of income in a population to visualize points such as mean and median to assess the effectiveness of its policies.
Sometimes unusual or outlying data which may have significant implications gets missed by bar charts.
But a histogram allows easy detection of any extreme values or outliers that fall outside a typical range.
Again, this has a practical application in many professions.
For example, a company’s marketing team might want to find outliers in customer behavior, such as unusually high or low spending patterns, to identify fraud or target segments that require unique marketing strategies.
Advantages and limitations of histograms
- Easy to identify patterns
Histograms make it easy to visualize patterns and understand the shape, symmetry, and skewness of data, which gives unique insights into the data.
- Detection of outliers
Detecting anomalies in data or extreme values outside a typical range is easy with a histogram.
- Manual statistical calculation
Histograms require you to manually calculate statistical measures such as mean, median, or standard deviation. This can not only be time-consuming but also lead to errors.
- Restrictive data type
Histograms are only effective for data that falls within a range and not when you have qualitative variables to study.
What is the difference between a histogram and a bar graph?
Although histograms and bar charts use a column-based display, they serve different purposes.
A bar graph is used to compare discrete or categorical variables in a graphical format whereas a histogram depicts the frequency distribution of variables in a dataset.
Examples of data that can fit a bar chart include types of fruits (apple, banana, orange), and job titles (manager, assistant, analyst), while a histogram may include something like the heights of individuals (ranging from shorter heights to taller heights).
Here’s a detailed breakdown:
How to create a bar chart with Venngage
Due to their popularity, there is no shortage of ways to make a bar chart.
The options include drawing it out by hand, using Office Suite tools such as Word or Excel, or Google solutions such as Docs and Sheets.
But all of these tools are limited in terms of customization and design options and have a steep learning curve.
By far, your best bet is Venngage.
Creating a bar chart with Venngage is simple and intuitive. By providing an intuitive drag-and-drop interface, anyone can design a bar chart regardless of design skill.
You’ll also find stunning bar chart templates to choose from that you can customize with your own data in just a few clicks!
Here’s how to do it:
Step 1 – Sign up for a free account
Start by signing up for a Venngage account using your email, Gmail or Facebook account.
Remember, it’s completely free!
Step 2 – Select a template from our library
Besides the examples I shared above, you’ll find many other bar chart templates to choose from. Just pick one you like to start editing.
Step 3 – Use our editor to edit your bar chart
Our bar chart templates let you replace the filler data with your own to make the process as painless and fast as possible.
Other items you can change or replace include the colors, text, and layout. Just drag to move elements around and experiment!
Here’s a better look:
Step 4 – Bring your bar chart to life with icons, illustrations and branding
Venngage offers 40,000 icons and illustrations to help you visualize and bring bar charts to life.
And that’s all there is to it. Creating a bar chart has never been easier!
Why choose a bar chart over a histogram?
You should choose a bar chart when you want to compare different categories or types of data. But if you want to understand the distribution and frequency of a single set of data, go with a histogram.
Do histograms and bar graphs look the same?
Although histograms and bar graphs look similar, they are not different names for a single type of chart. They are different since a bar chart is used to compare categorical data while histograms are used to analyze the distribution of data.
In conclusion: Understanding the differences between bar charts and histograms leads to effective data visualization
Knowing when to use a bar chart vs histogram enhances your ability to communicate data effectively.
It may seem confusing initially, but it’ll become second nature to know when you should when you’ve experienced both use cases a few times.
And to help you create your bar charts, remember Venngage’s Bar Graph Maker and bar chart templates are here to make your life easy so that your presentations and reports get the attention they deserve!