What are the advantages and limitations of using graphs and charts in business? 

The advantages of using graphs and charts in business relate to the ease and speed with which a basic understanding of data can be portrayed. These devices make it easy to understand what is going on. On the negative side, however, their limitations include an ability to deep-dive into the information at hand and the relative ease with which data can be manipulated.

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There are a number of advantages and limitations to using graphs and charts.

To start with the advantages, graphs and charts enable data to be summed up and understood in an instant, without relying on high levels of numerical analysis. In the business context, this is particularly useful during meetings and presentations. Graphs and charts enable people to get an immediate “big picture” of the issues and data at hand. Graphs and charts tend to make easy work of identifying trends, and they provide a logical way to break up long slabs of text in a presentation or document. A graph in this context is likely to be far more relevant than a picture.

To look briefly at the limitation of the use of graphs and charts, one has to remember that since these devices are a pictorial representation of information, they provide only a birds-eye view. While this can be useful, greater depth is often needed in order for wise decisions to be made. It is also important to remember that there are a number of different types of charts and graphs (pie chart, bar graph, pictograph, and so on), and in order for the data representation to be effective, the right type of graph must be chosen. Finally, graphically represented data can be easily manipulated to make a point.

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Graphs and charts provide major benefits. First, they can quickly provide information related to trends and comparisons by allowing for a global view of the data. It also allows members of the audience who may be less versed in numerical analysis to follow the information and understand the presentation more fully.

Secondly, graphs and charts provide a visual version of data, which can be helpful for visual learners.

However, these benefits are balanced by disadvantages. The major disadvantage of using charts and graphs is that these aids may oversimplify data, which can provide a misleading view of the data. Attempting to correct this can make charts overly complex, which can make their value in aiding a presentation less useful. Finally, it is important to use the correct chart and/or graph when presenting information, though this can be difficult to identify for ambiguous data.

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One standard acronym in computer science is "GIGO" (garbage in, garbage out). This means that any outputs are only as good as the data being input. In the case of various forms of graphic representation used in business, this is also the case. A chart is only as good as the data it represents. A pretty drawing of unreliable or statistically insignificant data is worthless, but even a very basic summary of well-researched and analyzed information is useful.

Charts and graphs can enable people to take in the "big picture" quickly. That is an advantage in making presentations more concise. However, insofar as charts and graphs simplify information and reduce complex data to easily digestible summaries, they may lead audiences to miss crucial issues.

In presentations, visual representations such as charts and graphs can add interest and enable people to grasp central issues quickly. On the other hand, long slideshows of charts can be very boring and lose an audience, especially when charts are used as a substitute for more detailed or original analysis.

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Advantage: Using charts and graphs can help the audience grasp visually the message that has to be conveyed. Charts and graphs are especially useful if there will be a great deal of details that would normally take up too much time explaining and you need to compact the information to a visual summation. Knowing your audience helps creating the right type of charts and graphs to use. For example, if you are addressing a team of sales representative, you want to search for sales charts and graphs that typically a sales team will understand visually. When utilizing charts and graphs keep in mind that they are to be supplemental to using words. Charts and graphs can be very powerful in visual presentations if done effectively.

Disadvantage: There are many different formats that can be used in creating charts and graphs that could make it quite difficult or frustrating to choose the correct one to effectively use. Too many charts and graphs can come across to be very confusing, lack clarity or irrelevant.

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The advantage to using graphs and charts is that they can display a lot of information is an easy to understand format.  For example, a line graph is a great way to show trends over a period of time.  You could put numbers in a table, but a line that is consistently going up is much more accessible at a quick glance.  Bar graphs show comparison stats in a simple way, and pie charts display group breakdowns neatly as well.  

The limitations of graphs and charts though is that there is always a limit to how much data they can show at a time.  Additionally, it can be fairly simple to make a graph display information in a misleading way.  By adjusting the Y axis values, a bar graph comparison can display the same information in two very different ways.  In one graph with large axis values, the two bars might not look that much different.  But if the Y axis is progressing by a value of 1, the one bar may tower over the other bar.  It's misleading.  

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