Describing Line Graphs (1)

How to understand and describe line graphs

Look at the following simple line graph:

It shows the population of France from 2013 to 2021. You can see that in 2013 the population was 65.75 million and that by the year 2021 it had grown to 67.75 million.

When you write about a line chart it is important to look first at the Chart Title. This tells you what information the graph displays and you can use this information in your description.

Then look at the X and Y axes. The titles of these axes sometimes give you information you can use in your description. It is important also to look at the UNITS. On the Y-axis in this graph the units are millions. The population of France in 2013 was not 65.75, but 65.75  million people.

Line graphs describe change. When describing these graphs you must answer the question, "What changed?". In this case we can see that the population of Denmark increased from 2013 to 2021.

We can also ask the question, "How did the population change?". Because the line is fairly smooth, we can say that the population increased steadily.

Lastly, we can ask the question, "How much?". In this case, "How big was the change in population?" The population in 2013 was 65.75 million and in 2021 it was 67.75 million. So there was an increase of 2 million people.

To write a short description of this graph ask yourself (and answer!) the following questions:

  1. What exactly does the graph show? (Use the chart title to help you answer this question)
  2. What are the axes and what are the units?
  3. What changed?
  4. How much did it change?

Answering these questions will help you to write a short description of this simple graph.

Here is an example:

This graph shows population change in France from 2013 to 2021. France's population grew steadily from 65.75 million in 2013 to 67.75 million in 2021, an increase of 2 million people.


Other words you can use instead of increased or grew are rose and went up.

Adverbs you can use with these words are:

How much?
dramatically, significantly, considerably, rapidly, substantially, steadily, sharply, markedly, greatly, slightly, exponentially, proportionally, strongly
by X% (by X per cent), by X (units), from X to Y, tenfold, fourfold ...
rapidly, steadily, slowly, gradually, dramatically, substantially, enormously, quickly
by X% (by X per cent), by X (units), from X to Y
sharply, slowly, steadily, slightly, rapidly, quickly, dramatically, significantly, substantially, gently, fractionally, considerably, gradually
by X% (by X per cent), by X (units), from X to Y
went up
The above adverbs are not usually used with "went up".
by X% (by X per cent), by X (units), from X to Y

Important Notes

It is important to note that the above line graph is used to illustrate how to describe the basic information in the graph. But you have to be careful about looking not just at the graph, but also the X and Y axes.

In the above graph the Y axis starts at 65 million, not zero. So the increase on the graph looks significant. But the percentage increase over these years is not high. It rises from 65.75 million in 2013 to 67.75 million in 2021. This is an increase of slightly more than 3% (3.0309) over a period of 8 years.

If we show the graph with the X axis starting at zero we get a more realistic impression of this increase.

So it is very important when interpreting graphs to be aware of how the data is presented.

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