Technical Writing



3D graphs

Short blog entry on 2D versus 3D graphics. 2D's Company, 3D's a a Crowd

While Excel and most graphic packages make the 3D graphs look neat, they are very hard to read. Avoid the use of 3D charts unless they are strictly for glitz and the user had no need for the real data. For example, in a corporate annual report many of the graphs are 3D. The user wants to see up trends, but is not interested in the real numbers.


Three-dimensional graphics are often difficult to interpret. Understanding the relationships of the three lines in first figure is difficult because of the 3-D grid, which can create an optical illusion. A simple two-dimensional line graph of the same information would be less artistic but easier to comprehend. Similarly, because the axes slope upward in the three-dimensional bar graphs, readers have difficulty visually comparing the relative heights of the bars. The bars located in the back of the graph appear higher than the ones in the front.



3D graphics also can cause distortion because of the perspective. In the following pie chart, notice that there are several slices that are either 2% or 4%, but each slice looks to be a different size. A reader looks at a graph and mentally compares the size of slices, they do not read the labels before reaching initial conclusions about the information.


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