Statistics How To

What is a Bar Chart? Different Types and Their Uses

Descriptive Statistics > What is a Bar Chart?


  1. What is a Bar Chart?
  2. Bar Graph Examples (Different Types)
  3. How to Make a Bar Chart By Hand
  4. Stacked Bar Chart.
  5. Make a Stacked Bar Graph in Excel.
  6. Make a Bar Graph in Excel 2007-2013.
  7. Make a Bar Graph in Minitab.

What is a Bar Chart? Overview

A bar chart is a graph with rectangular bars. Each bar’s length or height is proportional to the bars’ represented values. In other words, the length or height of the bar is equal to the quantity within that category. The graph usually shows a comparison between different categories. Although the graphs can technically be plotted vertically or horizontally, the most usual presentation for a bar graph is vertical. The x-axis represents the categories; The y-axis represents a value for those categories. In the graph below, the values are percentages.
What is a Bar Chart?

A bar graph is useful for looking at a set of data and making comparisons. For example, it’s easier to see which items are taking the largest chunk of your budget by glancing at the above chart rather than looking at a set of numbers.

Bar charts can also represent more complex categories with stacked bar charts or grouped bar charts. For example, if you had two houses and needed budgets for each, you could plot them on the same x-axis with a grouped bar chart, using different colors to represent each house.
grouped bar chart

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Difference Between a Histogram and a Bar Chart

A bar chart is used for when you have categories of data: Types of movies, music genres, or dog breeds. It’s also a good choice when you want to compare things between different groups. You could use a bar graph if you want to track change over time as long as the changes are significant (for example, decades or centuries). If have continuous data, like people’s weights or IQ scores, a histogram is best.

Bar Graph Examples (Different Types)

A bar graph shows you how different categories of data compare. The bars can be vertical or horizontal. It doesn’t matter which type you use — it’s a matter of choice (and perhaps how much room you have on your paper!).

A bar graph displays data in categories.

A bar chart with vertical bars.

Bar graph with horizontal bars. Image:

Bar chart with horizontal bars. Image:

One of the axes shows a discrete value (i.e. numbers) and the other shows categories. Vertical bar graphs have the categories on the x-axis (the horizontal axis) and horizontal bar graphs have categories on the y-axis.

Types of bar graphs

1. Grouped Bar Graph

A grouped bar graph is a way to show information about sub-groups of the main categories.

Grouped bar graph. Image: CDC.

Grouped bar chart. Image: CDC.

A separate bar represents each sub-group. In the above image, the categories are different sensory impairments and the sub-groups are: 70-70 years old and over 80 years old.
Different bar colors show the subgroups. A key or legend is usually included to let you know what each sub-category is. Like regular bar charts, grouped bar charts can also be drawn with horizontal bars.

2. Double Bar Graph

A type of grouped bar graph where there are only two sub-groups showing on the graph.

3. Stacked Bar Graph.

A stacked bar chart also shows sub-groups, but the sub-groups are displayed on the same bar.

Stacked bar chart showing list price change announcements by company.

Stacked bar chart showing list price change announcements by company.

Each bar shows the total for sub-groups within each individual category.

4. Segmented Bar Graph.

A type of stacked bar chart where each bar shows 100% of the discrete value.



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How to Make a Bar Chart By Hand

If you’re just starting to learn how to make a bar graph, you’ll probably be asked to draw one by hand on graph paper at first. Here’s how to do it.

Watch the video or read the steps below:

Sample problem: Make a bar graph that represents exotic pet ownership in the United States. There are 8,000,000 fish, 1,500,000 rabbits, 1,300,000 turtles, 1,000,000 poultry and 900,000 hamsters.

Step 1: Number the Y-axis with the dependent variable. The dependent variable is the one being tested in an experiment. In this sample question, the study wanted to know how many pets were in U.S. households. So the number of pets is the dependent variable. The highest number in the study is 8,000,000 and the lowest is 1,000,000 so it makes sense to label the Y-axis from 0 to 8.
how to make a bar graph

Step 2: Draw your bars. The height of the bar should be even with the correct number on the Y-axis. Don’t forget to label each bar under the x-axis.

Step 3: Label the X-axis with what the bars represent. For this sample problem, label the x-axis “Pet Types” and then label the Y-axis with what the Y-axis represents: “Number of pets (per 1,000 households).” Finally, give your graph a name. For this sample problem, call the graph “Pet ownership (per 1,000 households).

Optional: In the above graph, I chose to write the actual numbers on the bars themselves. You don’t have to do this, but if you have numbers than don’t fall on a line (i.e. 900,000), then it can help make the graph clearer for a viewer.

  1. Line the numbers up on the lines of the graph paper, not the spaces.
  2. Make all your bars the same width.

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Stacked Bar Chart

Stacked bar chart showing list price change announcements by company.

Stacked bar chart showing list price change announcements by company.

A stacked bar chart places related values on top of each other, showing sub-groups. While a grouped bar graph shows sub-groups on different bar adjacent to each other, the sub-groups on stacked bar charts are displayed on the same bar. Different colors represent different sub-groups. This type of chart is a good choice if you:

  • Want to show the total size of groups.
  • Are interested in showing how the proportions between groups related to each other, in addition to the total of each group.
  • Have data that naturally falls into components, like:
    • Sales by district.
    • Book sales by type of book.

Stacked bar charts can also show negative values; negative values are displayed below the x-axis.
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How to Make a Stacked Bar Chart in Excel

Watch the video or read the steps below.

Step 1:Select the data in your worksheet. The names for each bar are in column A. The “stacked” portion of each bar are in the rows.

stacked bar chart

Image modified from

Step 2: Click the “Insert” tab, then click “Column.”

Step 3: Choose a stacked chart from the given options. For example, the second chart listed (under 2-D column) is a good choice.

If you want to modify the layout of your chart, click the chart area of the chart to display the Chart Tools in the ribbon. Then click the “Design” tab for options.
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How to Make a Bar Chart in Excel

While bar charts can be vertical or horizontal, the most common format is vertical. Excel calls vertical graphs column charts and horizontal graphs bar charts.

How to Make a Bar Chart in Excel

Microsoft Excel bar chart (left) and column chart (right).

Excel 2007-2010

Sample problem: Create a bar chart in Excel that illustrates the following data for the tallest man-made structures in the world (as of January, 2013):

Building Height in feet
Burj Khalifa, Dubai 2,722
Tokyo Sky Tree 2,080
KVLY-TV mast, US 2,063
Abraj Al Bait Towers, Saudi Arabia 1,972
BREN Tower, US 1,516
Lualualei VLF transmitter 1,503
Petronas Twin Tower, Malaysia 1,482
Ekibastuz GRES-2 Power Station, Kazakhstan 1,377
Dimona Radar Facility, Israel 1,312
Kiev TV Tower, Ukraine 1,263
Zhoushan Island Overhead Powerline Tie, China 1,214

Step 1: Type your data into a new Excel worksheet. Place one set of values in column A and the next set of values in column B. For this sample problem, place the building names in column A and the heights of the towers in column B.

Entering the data into column A and B.

Entering the data into column A and B. Note that I typed a column header into cells A1 (Buildings) and B1 (Height).

Step 2: Highlight your data: Click in the top left (cell A1 in this example) and then hold and drag to the bottom right.

Step 3: Click the “Insert” tab and then click on the arrow below “Column.” Click the type of chart you would like (for example, click “2D column).

That’s it!

Tip: To widen the columns in Excel, mouse over the column divider, click and drag the divider to the width you want.
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Excel 2013

Watch the video or read the steps below. Plus, learn some basic formatting tips:

A bar graph in statistics is usually a graph with vertical bars. However, Excel calls a bar graph with vertical bars a column graph. If you want to make a column chart (vertical bars), watch this other video on my Youtube channel, How to make a column chart in Excel 2013.

how to make a bar graph in Excel 2013

Excel bar charts have horizontal bars.

Step 1: Click the “Insert” tab on the ribbon.

Step 2: Click the down arrow next to the bar chart icon.

Step 2: Select a chart icon. For example, select a simple bar chart.

That’s it!

How to make a bar graph in Excel 2013: Formatting tips

  • Change the width of the bars: Click on a bar so that handles appear around the bars. Right click, then choose Format Data Series. Under Format Data Series, click the down arrow and choose “Series Options.” Click the last choice (“Series…”). Then move the “Gap Width” slider to change the bar width.
  • If you want to remove the title or the data labels, select the “Chart Elements icon.” The Chart Elements icon is the first icon showing at the upper right of the graph area (the + symbol).
  • Change the style or color theme for your chart by selecting the Chart Styles icon. The Chart Styles icon is the second icon showing at the upper right of the graph (the pencil).
  • Edit what names or data points are visible on the chart by selecting the filter icon. The filter icon is the third icon at the top right of the chart area.

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    Make a Bar Graph in Minitab

    Minitab is a statistical software package distributed by Minitab, Inc. The software is used extensively, especially in in education. It has a spreadsheet format, similar in feel to Microsoft Excel. However, where it differs from Excel is that the toolbar is set up specifically for creating statistical graphs and distributions. Creating a bar graph in Minitab is as simple as entering your data into the spreadsheets and performing a couple of button clicks. The video below walks you through the steps or read the steps below.

    Step 1: Type your data into columns in a Minitab worksheet. For most bar graphs, you’ll probably enter your data into two columns (x-variables in one column and y-variables in another). Make sure you give your data a meaningful name in the top (unnumbered) row, because your variables will be easier to recognize in Step 5, where you build the bar graph.

    Step 2: Click “Graph,” then click “Bar Chart.”

    Step 3: Select your variable type from the Bars Represent drop down menu. For most charts, you’ll probably select “Counts of Unique Variables” unless your data is in groups or from a function.

    Step 4: Click “OK.”

    Step 5: Select a variable from the left window, then click the “Select” button to move your variable over to the Variables window.

    Step 6: Click “OK.” A bar graph in Mintab appears in a separate window.

    Tip:If you want to label your graph, click the “Label” button at the bottom of the window in Step 5.

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    What is a Bar Chart? Different Types and Their Uses was last modified: June 5th, 2018 by Stephanie

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