Describing Graphics

How to understand and describe graphics

Why you need to understand and be able to describe graphics

We use graphics to present data. They may be in the form of line graphs, bar charts, pie charts, maps, diagrams, pictures and so on. Describing raw data in words doesn't have the same impact as viewing a graphic.

Our choice of graphic depends on the data and what information we wish to highlight from that data. For example, we may wish to highlight change over time, to compare values, or to highlight causes and effects.

When you see a graphic you need to be very careful to examine it carefully. Not all graphics are what they seem. Some may mislead by not including relevant data or by distorting the graphic itself in some way. Some may be based on false data or data which is out of date.

But why do we need to describe graphics? Usually we add graphics to a text to make something easier to understand instead of using words. But sometimes we need to point out some important trend or comparison, or something particular that we want to make sure the reader has understood. Often these are introduced by adverbials such as "As the graph shows ..." or "as you can see from the chart... ".

All this is part of being data literate. Data literacy forms an important part of being able to communicate facts and figures in academic writing.

The only other reason to write a description of a graphic is to demonstrate that you can understand it and describe it in words. An example is task 1 of the IELTS examination. The pages below will help you if you need to prepare for such a task.

Introduction to Line Graphs - Rising Trend

Introduction to Line Graphs - Falling Trend

Describing Line Graphs - Using Adverbs

Describing Line Graphs - Using Verbs and Nouns

Describing Line Graphs - Making Comparisons

Describing Line Graphs - Scale

Describing Bar Charts and Column Charts

Describing Bar Charts and Column Charts - Making Multiple Comparisons

Describing Bar Charts and Column Charts - Observing the Axes

Describing Pie Charts

Describing Pie Charts - Comparing Two Charts

Describing Tables

Using Approximation

Describing Trends

Describing Projections


Graphics in Authentic Texts

All the data used in the creation of these graphics was sourced from the Eurostat site.

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