Survey Results Report: Pie Chart or Bar Graph?

Presenting Your Survey Findings

Presenting your survey results is the most important stage of your research project. Your goal is to present actionable data and vital recommendations so that informed decisions can be made.

Regardless of the care taken in the creation and execution of the survey itself, the time and effort spent on your research project could be wasted if the report does not communicate the survey findings effectively.

The presentation of your research data, relies on figures, tables, and graphical displays to clearly communicate your findings. While it is important to have written conclusions, an illustration speaks louder than words.

Choosing The Right Visual Graph

Choosing the right graph to represent your data, depends on the point you wish to convey. Too often bar graphs are used in lieu of pie charts and vice verse. When deciding which graphical illustration best makes your case, consider these options below.

Pie Chart

A pie chart is used to show fractions of a whole or percentages. Like slices in a pie, it shows how much each element contributes to the whole.

Pie charts emphasize where your data fits in relation to a larger whole. For instance, if I want to compare how many web visits were organic or paid, a pie chart will make the point obvious.


Keep in mind that pie charts work best when your data consists of several large sets. Too many variables divide the pie into small segments that are difficult to see. Use color or texture on individual segments to create visual contrast.

Bar Graph

Bar graphs are used to show comparisons and trends. They are typically used for more than one series (though they can show one series too).

Your audience will have a clear mental image of the disparities or similarities by the relative heights of the bars.

Bar graphs are used when you want to present distributions of data over time. For instance, if I want to compare my web visits over the last six months, than a bar graph would be appropriate. I could even break the data down into paid and organic categories using a series of bars to show the number of web visits over time.


You can create horizontal as well as vertical bar graphs.

Pie or Bar Graph?

Remember this simple rule when deciding to use a pie chart or a bar graph:

  • If you are comparing a percentage of a piece of the whole segment, use a pie chart.
  • If you are comparing a fixed numbers or a trend over time, use a bar graph.

Consider the main point you are trying to convey. Your chart or graph should make one point, vividly.

Written by

Sandy McKee

Sandy McKee is a digital marketer with over 10 years of experience in SEM, SEO, and social media marketing. She is a lover of books, fine food, and a mother of 2.

Join the Conversation
  • john

    what was the best thing about the survey

  • James Colvin

    Stephen Few says in Show Me the Numbers: “I don’t use pie charts, and I strongly recommend that you abandon them as well.”

    Edward Tufte states “The only worse design than a pie chart is several of them.”

    So the correct answer to when to use a pie chart is “never”.