How to Choose the Best Visuals for Your Survey Results Report

Should you use a pie chart or or stacked column chart to visualize the data from your survey results report? Would a line graph or bar graph work better? To communicate your findings in a way that people can understand visually, you need to choose the right types of charts and graphs.

market research graphs

Think of it this way. The right visuals can make your data more compelling and easier to understand, because people process visuals 60,000 times faster than words. In addition, 65% of people are visual learners, and visuals can improve learning by up to 400%. In other words, visuals don’t just look nice. They truly do help you communicate your survey results better.

With that said, consider the most commonly used types of charts and graphs in market research reports. Let’s take a look at each and analyze when to use them to share your data.

Pie Charts

Pie charts are most effective when you’re trying to show the composition of something. For example, if you’re trying to visualize market share, a pie chart is the perfect choice. People can quickly glance at a pie chart and see who has the largest market share.

Think of a pie chart as a visual representation of parts of a whole. Use one when you want to show who (or what response to a survey question) has the biggest piece of the pie. The pieces of the pie represent percentages of a whole, so when they’re added together, they always equal 100%.

Pie Chart Tips

Limit the number of pie wedges to six or fewer, and arrange them in clockwise order starting with the largest wedge unless there is a specific order to your survey responses that is more important. It’s also a good practice to choose colors for each wedge strategically with the darkest color first (for the largest wedge) and moving to the lightest color (for the smallest wedge). If you have an “other” response category or another catch-all response category, show that category last in your pie chart regardless of how large the wedge is.

pie chart

Column and Bar Graphs

Column graphs show data using vertical columns while bar graphs use horizontal bars. These types of graphs are best for showing chronological data, trends over time, and comparisons across categories of data.

Your choice of using a column or bar graph depends on how long the categories’ names (i.e., the survey responses) are and how many categories you have. Sometimes, one chart type works better than the other purely for aesthetic reasons.

Column and Bar Graph Tips

Use horizontal labels to ensure they’re easy to read, and use a legend if the category names are numerous or too long. Also, make sure the scale of the graph is easy to understand. It helps to include labels for each column or bar to identify the percentage or numeric value, but leave labels out if they make the graph too cluttered and difficult to read.

column chart

bar chart

Line Graphs

Line graphs are used to show continuous data, trends over time, peaks and valleys in data over time, or comparisons over time. Therefore, they’re not often used to communicate survey results visually because most survey questions ask for respondents’ opinions at a moment in time rather than over a period of time. However, if you conduct the same survey repeatedly with the same questions and responses (such as an annual survey), you could use a line graph to show how respondents’ opinions change over time.

Line Graph Tips

Limit the number of lines on your line graphs to four, and stick with solid lines for better readability. Set up your graph’s axis scale so the highest point is close to the top of the scale. This provides the most space to analyze the progress of data over time.

line chart

Custom Charts

Depending on the online survey tool you use, you might have access to unique, custom charts that you can’t find anywhere else. These charts could provide creative ways to display your data. For example, AYTM’s PersonalityRadar tool profiles approximately 3,000 traits in its consumer panel database to profile respondents. By analyzing millions of data point combinations at any moment, you can get a clear picture of respondents’ answers to your questions and their aggregated personality and psychographic traits.

You can use PersonalityRadar to determine things like which of your respondents are most likely to buy your product in the near future segmented by personal habits, work life, hobbies, health, digital life, and more. The PersonalityRadar visualization chart makes it easy to see your data in one place.

Custom Chart Tips

Use custom charts when traditional charts don’t adequately present your data or when you’re using a unique tool that requires custom chart visualizations. For example, the PersonalityRadar chart below shows that Republicans were 21% more likely to root for the Broncos in Super Bowl LXVIII than people with other political affiliations.

Word Clouds

While not technically a type of chart or graph, word clouds can be used to visualize data from your market research reports. They work best when you need to create a visualization of a long list of data.

For example, if one of your survey questions asks respondents to tell you why they don’t buy your products, your word cloud might include words and phrases like price, convenience, shipping time, customer service, selection, and so on. The most often reported words appear in the largest font and the size decreases as the number of respondents using each word or phrases decreases.

Word Cloud Tips

Don’t use a word cloud unless you have a lot of data to display and the data can be understood in context. In other words, the phrases and words in the word cloud visualization must make sense when shown together. A word cloud is useless if the phrases and words aren’t related to each other. Be sure to give people context to your word cloud so they understand its meaning.

word cloud

Stacked Column or Bar Chart

Stacked column or bar charts are used to show part-to-whole relationships. Therefore, categories are shown as percentages of a whole, and the data in each column (or bar) always adds up to 100%. For example, you might use a stacked column or bar chart to show the answers to a survey question broken down by gender or age group.

Keep in mind, pie charts can be used to show a single part-to-whole relationship, but when you need to show multiple part-to-whole relationships (such as how people in different age groups responded to a survey question with four different response choices), a stacked column or bar chart would allow you to see the breakdowns by response and compare those breakdowns across the four possible responses.

Stacked Column or Bar Chart Tips

Always use contrasting colors in stacked column or bar charts, so it’s very easy for people to see each category within the chart columns or bars and compare them to each other. Also, make sure your chart is large enough that the category sizes are easy to distinguish and compare.

stacked column chart

The Takeaway

Choose your visuals carefully, because they can make your data easier or more difficult to interpret. Importantly, use a survey platform like AYTM that allows you to see your data represented in a variety of chart types and even download your data to PowerPoint where can quickly change chart types and to Excel where you can create all of the fully customized charts you need.

Visualizations matter a lot when you present your survey results. Therefore, always take the time to strategize the story you want to tell with your data, and choose the best charts and graphs to convey that information quickly and clearly.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Susan Gunelius

Susan Gunelius, MBA is a 25-year marketing and branding expert and President and CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company. She is the author of 10 books about marketing, branding and social media, and her marketing-related articles appear on top media websites such as Entrepreneur.com and Forbes.com. She is also the Founder and Editor in Chief of WomenOnBusiness.com, an award-winning blog for business women.

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