How to Explain a Graph Effectively: A Step-by-Step Guide

Graphs communicate important quantitative information in a visual format and are often used to communicate health and medical information. Much of the HPE curriculum involves students being presented with information in graphical form. Using this form of representation, students must:

Individuals with higher levels of graphical literacy are better able to find information in graphs, and they spend more time looking at conventional features of graphs to generate more accurate interpretations (Okan, Galesic & Garcia-Retamero, 2015).

Teachers should explicitly teach the meaning-making (semiotic) systems of graphical representations before having students analyse graphs (see Explicitly teaching text structure and Reading and unpacking visual representations of data ). This includes explaining:

Additional strategies to support students to read graphs can be found in Language for graphs and statistical displays.

Graphs are a powerful way to visually communicate data and information However, not everyone intuitively understands how to read and interpret graphs When presenting graphs to an audience, it is essential to properly explain the graph so the key insights and takeaways are clear.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk through a step-by-step process to explain any graph effectively Follow these best practices to ensure your audience fully grasps the meaning and implications behind the data

Step 1: Introduce the Graph

Always start by introducing the graph. Provide a title and briefly explain the overall topic and purpose of the visual. This context helps orient the audience so they know how to interpret the information.

For example, “This bar graph shows the quarterly revenue growth for Acme Company in 2022.” Make sure to highlight:

  • Graph type (bar, pie, line, etc.)
  • Variables represented – x axis, y axis, legends
  • Time duration or range
  • Source of data

Keep the introduction short and direct Assume familiarity with the topic area, and focus on highlighting the specifics relevant to this particular graph

Step 2: Describe the Variables

Succinctly identify and describe each variable represented in the graph. For example:

  • X axis shows the timeline, broken into quarterly intervals from Q1 to Q4
  • Y axis depicts revenue measured in thousands of dollars
  • Blue bars represent revenue for Retail Department
  • Orange bars show Wholesale Department Revenue

Point out units, scales, increments, and legends to educate the audience on how to read the axes and data points. Define acronyms or technical terms that may be unfamiliar. Describing the variables helps listeners interpret the graph correctly.

Step 3: Identify Key Trends and Patterns

Call attention to the most significant trends, peaks, valleys, and anomalies in the data. Help the audience focus on the most important points and avoid misinterpreting random variations as meaningful.

Some best practices for highlighting key information:

  • Note overall increasing or decreasing patterns
  • Identify the highest and lowest points
  • Callout anomalies and outliers
  • Reference dramatic rises or sharp declines
  • Compare different lines and data sets
  • Mention important inflection points

Step 4: Provide Interpretation and Insight

Go beyond just describing the data—provide meaningful interpretation of the key implications. Explain why certain patterns are occurring and how they impact the audience. Share essential discoveries, conclusions, and insights.

Some tips for effective interpretation:

  • Compare year-over-year increases or decreases
  • Discuss potential causes of trends
  • Note correlations and relationships in data
  • Benchmark against competitors or industry averages
  • Assess performance against targets and projections
  • Consider seasonal or cyclical factors
  • Relate data to broader context and events

Your insightful commentary should help the audience understand the significance of the data.

Wrap up by highlighting your main takeaways and conclusions from the data. What are the one or two key points you want your audience to remember?

Reinforce the significance of major findings and trends. Discuss real-world impacts and applications. Relate the data back to the original topic and purpose. Effective conclusions help the audience walk away with meaningful, relevant insights.

Step 6: Invite Questions

After concluding your explanation, open the floor for questions. Your audience may need clarification or have questions you did not proactively address. Revisiting confusing points helps cement understanding and prevents misinterpretation.

Field questions patiently and thoroughly. If you don’t know an answer, acknowledge that, but commit to following up. Providing opportunities for live Q&A shows your audience you care about their comprehension.

Best Practices for Explaining Graphs Effectively

Keep these tips in mind for optimal graph explanations:

Keep it simple – Avoid technical jargon and unnecessary complexity. Use clear, plain language appropriate for the audience.

Highlight most relevant information – Do not try to point out every data point. Focus on key trends and takeaways.

Use descriptive adjectives – Words like “steep,” “mild,” “stable,” “drastic,” etc. help paint a picture.

Refer to specific data points – Reference exact figures, years, and events when identifying patterns.

Use transition words – Phrases like “meanwhile,” “in contrast,” “at the same time,” guide the listener.

Reinforce with visual cues – Point, gesture, and use props like a laser pointer to direct attention.

Make it memorable – Use analogies, stories, and examples to help the data stick.

Be enthusiastic and conversational – Bring energy and avoid monotone recitation of facts.

Invite participation – Ask questions, get show of hands, have listeners describe patterns.

Set a context – Explain how the data relates to the audience’s real interests and concerns.

Common Graph Types and How to Explain Them

While the process remains consistent, slight adjustments may optimize explanations for different graph types.

Line Graphs

Best for showing trends and trajectories over time. When explaining:

  • Trace progression of each line from left to right
  • Compare different lines and intersections between them
  • Describe shape and slope of lines (e.g. steep, gradual increase)

Bar Graphs

Ideal for comparing categorical data side-by-side. Tips:

  • Compare bar heights and ordering left-to-right
  • Reference actual bar values for key data points
  • Note comparisons of bars within the same categories

Pie Charts

Effective for showing parts of a whole. Explain by:

  • Comparing slice sizes and proportions
  • Pointing out smallest and largest slices
  • Referencing the degree values of key slices

Scatter Plots

Useful for visualizing correlations. For these:

  • Note overall directionality and slope of dots
  • Identify clusters and outliers
  • Describe distribution patterns and density of dots

Heat Maps

Represent values through color shades. Explain by:

  • Pointing out dark vs. light regions
  • Describing patterns in adjacent color blocks
  • Providing context on color scale used

There are countless graph varieties, but the process remains the same. Introduce, describe the variables, identify key patterns, provide interpretation, draw conclusions. Rinse and repeat with enthusiasm and clarity, and you have a recipe to explain any graph like a pro!

Sample Graph Explanation

Let’s apply these steps to explain the graph below, which depicts ecommerce revenue growth for a fictional company.

This line graph shows the monthly revenue for Main Street eCommerce in 2022. It tracks both total revenue across all sales channels, as well as breakdowns for web, mobile, and brick-and-mortar revenue.

Describe Variables

  • X axis shows the months from January to December 2022
  • Y axis shows revenue figures in thousands of dollars
  • The blue line represents total revenue
  • Orange line shows web revenue
  • Gray is for mobile revenue
  • Yellow displays brick-and-mortar revenue

Highlight Key Patterns

  • Total revenue rose sharply from $110k in January to $240k in December
  • Web revenue drove most growth, nearly tripling from $60k to $170k
  • Mobile and brick-and-mortar grew slowly, only increasing about 50% year-over-year
  • Seasonal peaks occur in March, September, and November

Provide Interpretation

  • Total annual growth of 118% is extremely strong
  • Shift towards web over mobile suggests opportunity to optimize mobile
  • Physical retail growth lagging indicates potential to improve in-store experience
  • Seasonal peaks correlate with marketing campaigns and holidays
  • Overall revenue picture is very positive, especially web growth
  • Mobile and brick-and-mortar are still growth areas we can optimize
  • Maintaining marketing and promotions during peak seasons is working well

Invite Questions

What other conclusions can you draw? Does this align with trends you see in the overall market? What surprised you most about the data?

Explaining graphs effectively is an essential presentation skill. By introducing the graph, describing the variables, highlighting key patterns, interpreting the implications, and inviting questions, you can ensure your audience comprehends the full meaning of the data.

With the ability to explain graphs expertly, you can surface impactful insights, influence decisions, drive change, and achieve results. When you take your audience on a guided journey through the data, you turn a simple graph into a catalyst for knowledge, discovery and progress.

how to explain a graph

Using sentence starters to analyse graphs

Sentence starters are one way to scaffold students interpretation of graphs. Sentence starters provide a focal point for students to begin writing (or saying) an interpretation of the data they are viewing in graphical form.

Sentence starters can range in their cognitive demand, moving from identifying information and patterns in the graph to generating comparisons, predictions, and hypotheses.

Sentence starters teachers can provide students include:

  • This graph shows …
  • A pattern I notice in the graph is …
  • An anomaly/outlier/different pattern in the graph is …
  • A difference between … and …. is …
  • A similarity between … and … is
  • If this pattern continued, I predict …
  • A probable reason for that pattern is …
  • A probable reason for this difference is …
  • When I first looked at this graph …
  • The data that most stood out to me was …

The example below provides some completed sentences a Year 7 or 8 student wrote after viewing a graph about the types of drinks consumed by Australian children (VCHPEP129).

Source: Figure 3 in Boden Institute, University of Sydney 2014. Evidence Brief Obesity: Sugar-Sweetened Beverages, Obesity and Health. Australian National Preventive Health Agency, Canberra.

    • This graph shows the types of drinks drunk by Australian children.
    • A general pattern I notice in the graph is that as the childs age increases, they drink more of these kinds of drinks.
    • A reason for this pattern might be because older children can go out and buy their own drinks.
    • A different pattern in the graph is that energy drinks go down for 14 to 16-year old.
    • A reason for this pattern might be because they prefer drinking other drinks.
    • The data that most stood out to me was that sports drinks were drunk more than soft drinks.

How to talk about charts and graphs in English (advanced English lessons)

How do you describe a bar graph?

If describing a bar graph, look for patterns like pyramid shapes or skewed distributions. Pie charts often have distinct shapes when grouped segments stand out. Highlighting these forms helps readers understand data dynamics quickly. Examples: “The line graph’s shape is linear, showing a consistent rise in revenue.”

How do you explain a graph effectively?

Here are steps you can use to explain a graph effectively: 1. Introduce the graph Introduce the graph to your audience by presenting the title and explaining the topic of the graph. Share what the data highlights, including the topic, values and subjects of the research.

How do you explain a graph in a presentation?

Also, if you’re explaining your graph in a presentation, it’s a good idea to introduce the key labels (eg. axes and units) before talking about the data. Use phrases like “The y axis shows…”, “The x axis shows…”, and “The units here are…” Remember, the aim is to help people understand your graph, not to make long, complex sentences.

What does a graph represent?

A graph is a visual representation of numerical data. A visual way to summarize complex data and display the relationship between various variables or sets of data is through graphs. Graphs are a fantastic tool for highlighting patterns and connections in data.

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