Working with diagrams

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3.2 Using diagrams of your own choice and design

This option is the most challenging and most rewarding, as it clearly shows that you have explored and analysed the source material and reworked it for yourself. In many cases, the source material may not contain any diagrams, simply text or numbers, perhaps expressed as a table. Alternatively, you may have had to make some specific observations or undertake an experiment to produce your own data. In this case, you may be expected to produce a diagram to enhance or improve your assignment. If you use a computer, you will also be aware of how easy it can be to produce graphs and charts from sets of data.

The difficult part is selecting the most appropriate graph or chart to use. This depends mostly on the type of data you're using, but it also depends on your purpose in drawing the diagram.

• Discrete data – that is, things that can be counted – are best presented as a bar chart.

• Continuous data – that is, things that can be measured – can be presented as a line graph, as a bar chart or as a histogram. The choice will be influenced by the number of data and whether a mathematical relationship is involved.

• If the data are expressed as percentages rather than actual numbers, choose a histogram, a (percentage) bar chart or a pie chart.

• When you want to show the frequency of something, or compare similar sets of data, choose a bar chart or a histogram.

• If you are showing a mathematical relationship, or a causal link between two factors, a line graph is best.

This list of pointers is not exhaustive, but it should be sufficient to help you get started in selecting and producing charts and graphs.

Hints and Tips

If you feel able to use diagrams, and you believe their use is relevant, then:

• Keep diagrams simple – don't try to squeeze in too much information.

• Give diagrams a title.

• Label and clearly indicate the scale of charts and graphs or the arrows on relationship diagrams.

• Always refer to diagrams from the text – don't leave them ‘hanging’ in isolation.

• Don't simply copy a diagram from a book. Link it to a real situation – either by including details on the diagram at appropriate points or by referring to specific aspects of the diagram in the accompanying text.

• If your diagram is similar to, or is an adaptation of, a standard form of diagramming, acknowledge the fact. If symbols are used in a way that differs from accepted conventions, acknowledge this too.

• Use the diagram to challenge your thinking – follow it through, as it may prompt you to consider important issues you might otherwise not address. Use the diagram to make your analysis more rigorous.

• If you choose to adapt or challenge the diagram, that's all right. But do justify your approach, and state that your alteration is intentional.

• Check the diagram with someone not involved in the situation. If they understand it, it is probably useful.

• If you choose the most appropriate kind of chart or graph, it makes the patterns in the data much clearer and more obvious than tables can.

• Quote the source of the data used.

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