Making Your Graphs More Manageable

You’ve probably heard about the different “types” of learning styles that exist. Some people call themselves “visual” learners, who find learning easiest with pictures, maps, and graphs. Other people say they learn best through hearing or actually doing an activity. I’d have to lump myself into the visual learner category because I find visual representations the easiest way to quickly grasp information.

As a visual learner working in an industry where statistics and data analysis often translate into pages filled with numbers and complex algorithms, I’ve been saved by one thing—graphs! Graphing your data is not only an efficient way to identify and convey key information, but graphs can help visual learners like me make meaningful conclusions just by seeing the numbers come to life visually.

While graphs can be great tools for relaying information and presenting the results of your quality improvement projects, sometimes graphs can become so crowded that it may be difficult for your audience to see what you intended to convey.

In a post a few weeks ago, I talked about the tools available in Minitab to cut the clutter from your worksheets, but there are also tools in Minitab that can help make your graphs look cleaner by dividing them into more manageable pieces.

Graph paneling is an easy method for making the sometimes subtle language of a graph bolder and even clearer —without sacrificing data integrity. Here are a few before-and-after samples to show what graph paneling can do:

Compare and Contrast

Relationships within and between the groups in the scatterplot below are difficult to see, but paneling can separate observations by group for an easier comparison.

Divide a Chart into Smaller Pieces

The number of points in this control chart makes the graph below difficult to decipher, but extending the graph across three panels makes viewing observations more manageable.

Organize Data Without Worksheet Manipulation

The graph below is an overwhelming jumble of distributions, but paneling can divide the graph into logical groups without making awkward alterations to your worksheet.

Try Graph Paneling in Minitab

There are three methods for paneling a graph in Minitab:

  • In most cases, these pieces or panels are defined by a categorical variable called a By Variable. A separate panel is created for each unique value in the By Variable. Access this option from the graph’s main dialog box by clicking Multiple Graphs > By Variables.
  • With control charts, the continuous string of observations is split into panels that contain the desired number of equally sized segments. Access this option from the chart’s main dialog box by clicking Options > Display.
  • After you create a graph, you can add panels by choosing Editor > Panel.




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