or countries or students or departments or… you just have a lot of categories to squeeze into your chart. How do we proceed without creating a hot mess of a graph?

I have some sweet clients who have to present data on all the counties in the state of New York. They tried their very best to fit the data onto one PowerPoint slide:

Surely they were thinking the only option is to list the counties along the x-axis, because that’s where PowerPoint slideshows give you the most room.

Even still, the county names are in alphabetical order, which doesn’t tell much of a story.

We could just reorder the counties from greatest to least. But the county names would still be in 8 point font, diagonal. So what else could we do?

Meaningfully Edit.

Is it actually important or helpful to see the data for every county? Perhaps you only really need to show a curated list, like the top 10.

You can always implement a details on demand approach and include a QR code or link to let your audience download a table with the data for every county.

Group Logically.

If a top 10 is making you worried the folks in county 11 are gonna be offended, you could find a way to meaningfully group all 6 counties. Here, I’m splitting them into thirds.

But think about what would make logical sense for your own data. For example, you could also try subregions, population size, economic centers, political leanings, etc.

Just use some discretion. Too many groups and you’ll end up with some space constraints, just like the original.


A map will definitely show you all the data at once.

This is less great at showing the goal and who’s met it, though you might be able to add in some extra encoding, like a thicker border, to indicate that.

One other drawback of maps that you should keep in mind: it can make dense but geographically-tiny counties difficult to see. If that’s happening to you, try an alternative map type, like a hex, tile, or trap map.

Wrap around Text.

Check out this super cute idea (which came to me by way of Andy Kirk):

The Washington Post used the page margins as their plot area. Really creative solution when your chart is just gonna be tall.

So, now you’ve got 4 new ideas for graphing when you have a lot of categories. What else does this make you think of?

Learn something new?

Share this helpful info with a friend who needs an extra perk today or post it to your social where your third cousin can benefit, too.