Describing Graphs, Tables and Charts

What is a chart?

A chart is a diagram that makes information easier to understand by showing how two or more sets of data are related. There are two common types of chart, a pie chart and a bar chart.

  1. A pie chart is a circle divided into segments . It is usually used to show percentages.
  2. A Bar chart is a diagram that makes information easier to understand by showing how two or more sets of data are related. A bar chart is divided into columns .

1. Population growth in Canada

This graph shows the growth of the population in Canada from 1978 to 2009. It is taken from the website about Statistics in Canada.

There are three graphs in the chart. The green graph shows the total growth of the population, the black one deals with the migrated people in Canada and the blue graph shows the natural increase of the population. In 1988/89 there was an enormous growth. In the following years the total growth went down to about 250,000 in 1998/99. From that time on the Canadian population has been gradually growing again although the natural increase slows down. So we can say that the growth of the population in Canada is based on migration.


The chart shows the educational achievements of homeless people in America (divided into those in families and single homeless people) compared to those of all US adults, for the year 1997. The (i) _ worst­__ ___ educational attainment was for homeless people in families (53% with less than a high-school diploma), (ii) ­­­_________ the (iii) ________ results were for all US adults (45% or more with a high-school diploma). Single homeless people were (iv) ___________ than those in families: the percentage of single homeless without a high-school diploma was much (v) _________ than for homeless people in families (37% compared to 53%), (vi) ________ the percentage having only high-school diplomas was much (vii) _________ (36% compared to 21%). Having said this, similar percentages of homeless people in families and single homeless people had more than a high-school diploma: 27% and 28% respectively. In sum, it is clear that homeless people had (viii) _______ educational attainments than US adults as a whole, and that homeless people in families had (ix) ________ levels of achievement than single homeless.



This chart shows the populations of major European countries in 1996 and 2007. In all countries except Poland the population rose in this period. The largest rise was in Turkey where the population increased from over 62 to over 73 million, whereas the smallest increase was in Germany where the population of 82 million rose by a few thousand. Spain also had a fairly large increase from 39.4 million to 44.5 million, and France was not far behind with an increase of almost 4 million. In the other two countries, Italy and the United Kingdom, population growth was more modest with increases of about 2.3 and 2.8 million respectively. In Poland, the population fell by half a million. Poland had the smallest population in both 1996 and 2007. Although Spain and Portugal had comparable populations in 1996, Spain’s population is now nearly six and a half million greater than Poland’s.


Now take a look at a model answer:



The pie charts illustrate the primary reasons that people came to and left the UK in 2007.  At first glance it is clear that the main factor influencing this decision was employment. 

Having a definite job accounted for 30 per cent of immigration to the UK, and this figure was very similar for emigration, at 29%.  A large number of people, 22%, also emigrated because they were looking for a job, though the proportion of people entering the UK for this purpose was noticeably lower at less than a fifth. 

Another major factor influencing a move to the UK was for formal study, with over a quarter of people immigrating for this reason.  However, interestingly, only a small minority, 4%, left for this.

The proportions of those moving to join a family member were quite similar for immigration and emigration, at 15% and 13% respectively.   Although a significant number of people (32%) gave ‘other’ reasons or did not give a reason why they emigrated, this accounted for only 17% with regards to immigration.


Look at the following simple line graph:

Simple Graph

It shows the population of Denmark from 1996 to 2007. You can see that in 1996 the population was 5.25 million and that by the year 2007 it had grown to 5.45 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 Denmark in 1996 was not 5.25, but 5.25 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 1996 to 2007.

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 1996 was 5.25 million and in 2007 it was 2.45 million. So there was an increase of 0.2 million or 200,000 people.



This chart shows the relative size of populations of countries of the European Union in 2007. So we can only make comparisons; we cannot say anything about change.

We can see that the country with the largest population was Germany with 16.6% of the European Union’s population. We can also see that the second largest population was that of France with 12.8% of the population.

We do NOT know from this chart which country has the smallest population because the 21 smallest countries are included in one group. (If you’re interested, it is Malta with less than 0.1 per cent.)

You can see that the four largest countries (Germany, France, the United Kingdom and Italy) together make up more than half of the European Union’s population.

You CANNOT say that Poland has the smallest population: 21 other countries have populations smaller than Poland’s.

The twenty-one smallest countries of the European Union make up nearly 30% of the population.