Key Differences Between a Bar Chart vs. Histogram

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 6 May 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Bar charts and histograms are two visual tools that businesses commonly use to illustrate data. They often utilise these charts to show differences between yearly or monthly sales or performances in different campaigns. If you're working as an analyst and frequently use graphs, it can be useful to understand the differences between the two visual tools, so you can know which ones to use in your reports. In this article, we explore what a bar chart and a histogram are and compare the differences between a bar chart vs. histogram.

Bar chart vs. histogram

There are several differences between a bar chart vs. histogram that are useful to consider when deciding which one to use to effectively display a large amount of information. They're similar because they're both graphics with bars and axes to represent values. Businesses usually use both types of graphs to display data for various items. To find out how they're different, it's important to first learn their definitions:

What is a bar chart?

A bar chart, or column chart, is a form of bar graph that businesses commonly use to categorise and display their data. These charts help you compare similar variables between various categories easily. Similarly, double bar charts help you compare two similar data sets simultaneously. Businesses may frequently use bar charts to compare and illustrate the following types of data:

  • sales numbers by month or quarter

  • the number of clients each department has gained by financial year

  • the number of employees that the business has hired per department over a period

To illustrate when you may use a bar chart, here's an example:

A fruit company that supplies oranges to juice stalls in the city wants to compare the numbers of oranges they've sold to different stalls in March to learn which stall orders the most oranges. The x-axis represents the categories for each stall they sell oranges to, and the y-axis depicts the number of oranges they sell to each stall. If a particular stall ordered 40 oranges that month, the bar on the y-axis represents 40 units.

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What is a histogram?

A histogram is a type of bar graph that businesses typically use to display quantitative or statistical data. These bar graphs allow you to find the distribution or frequency of data that's continuous and compare any non-discrete values. Histograms typically include any data ranges you can group into data intervals or data bins on the x-axis with values on the y-axis. Businesses frequently use histograms to compare and illustrate the following types of data:

  • average income by age range

  • average number of properties that are available, based on their values

  • amount of time that customers may spend on the company website

Here's an example to help you understand when you might want to use a histogram:

A secondary school teacher evaluates how well the students in the English class performed on a recent test. The x-axis depicts their score ranges in increments as letters, such as C for students who received a score between 60 and 69, and a data bin for any score below 60. The y-axis then displays the number of students who received a grade in that range. If 10 students earned a C, the 60 to 69 bar reaches 10 in the y-axis.

Related: What Does a Market Analyst Do and How to Become One

Understanding the differences between a bar chart and a histogram

To better understand these visual charts, here are some differences between a bar chart and a histogram:

Organise data in different ways

While histograms organise their data using bins and ranges in increasing order, bar charts don't have any data organisation rules. With bar charts, you can arrange each data category by various factors, such as size or alphabetical order. Many data analysts often choose to arrange the bars by size to simplify the process when they want to interpret the smallest and largest values in the chart.

Utilise different data types

Both histograms and bar charts can display large amounts of data. Bar charts display categorical data or group information by specific characteristics. Contrastingly, histograms display quantitative data in data bins, namely information that's measurable with numbers.

Compare data for different purposes

While both forms of data charts depict information, businesses typically utilise them for different purposes. Histograms help you compare and analyse a variable distribution of how often a specific variable occurs. Conversely, bar charts help you compare any specific categories or variables in your data set.

Related: What Does a Market Research Analyst Do? Plus Salary

Have different spacings and widths for their data

Bar charts typically have spaces between every bar on the graph. Contrastingly, histograms usually don't have any spaces between each bar. In bar charts, each column has the same width, whereas for histograms, their columns may have differing widths since each column is proportional to the data.

Have different interpretations for their data

Both forms of charts include the x-axis and the y-axis, but they interpret data in differing ways. In a typical bar chart, every item on the x-axis represents a categorical value, and the y-axis shows the column labels to represent a group size. On a histogram, the x-axis represents a single value, a range category or a data bin, while the y-axis represents the group's value by its label on the column.

Measure and group different kinds of variables

Both kinds of visual charts usually show differing types of variables. Histograms typically depict how you want to represent non-discrete variables, or continuous variables, in a data set. You can usually determine these non-discrete variables by measuring their values. Conversely, bar charts compare discrete variables, namely the values you can determine by counting them. Both kinds of charts also group each element on the x-axis differently. Histograms group elements by categorising them into ranges, whereas bar charts treat every element as a separate entity.

Measure patterns while the other doesn't

Histograms are an effective way to depict and display trends to help you find patterns you're looking for more easily. They also utilise the data to help you predict future performances and processes so that you can have a better idea of how to strategise and plan your campaigns. Using bar charts can help you find essential information, but their elements are usually in broad categories, which don't allow you to analyse and identify any patterns or trends in them.

Represent values in exact numbers while the other shows them in ranges

If you're looking to organise and present your data in exact values, using a bar chart is the best way to do so, since they can represent the data as integers. You can use histograms to display data as ranges or data bins. They can be useful if you're trying to show your sales data in ranges.

Affect one but not the other in terms of skewness

Skewness refers to the distribution of data, or the asymmetry of data. You can represent your data in various ways. When analysing your data in these charts, it's important to look out for skewness because it may affect how you read and analyse your results. Skewness doesn't affect bar charts, since you can organise your columns as you wish. If you're using a histogram for your values, it's important to watch for skewness in your chart, since you can't re-arrange any columns.

Other types of charts and graphs

Here are some other graphs and charts you can consider using to display your data:

  • Line graph: A line graph illustrates how related data can change over specific periods of time. Businesses often use them to show trends, such as temperature changes or sales.

  • Pictograph: A pictograph is a visual data chart that uses pictures and symbols to display data. Businesses often use them to display data in an engaging and visual way, similar to an infographic.

  • Area graph: An area graph represents how one or more variables can change over time. They often are useful in displaying patterns and trends.

  • Scatter plot: A scatter plot is a type of graph that uses dots to represent the relationship between two variables.

  • Pie chart: A pie chart presents data that comprises different parts of a whole. Each piece represents a fraction of the chart that resembles a pie. Businesses typically use them to represent marketing research responses, population segments or budget allocations.

  • Bullet chart: Individuals often use a bullet chart to measure a target or goal's performance. One common use is to check the progress of a key performance indicator.

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