How To Quantipulate Using Graphics

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To refresh your memory, quantipulation is:

The art and act of using unverifiable math and statistics to convince people of what you believe to be true.

Examples of quantipulation abound in marketing and politics. Today, I’ll show you how to quantipulate with graphics, using a real-life example pulled from a very reputable firm’s blog.

In a post titled What Social Networking Websites Do Consumers Access Within the Course of a Typical Month? the Raddon Group enclosed a Powerpoint deck that reported the results of a recent survey the firm conducted. The graphic below was pulled from the deck, and was altered to hide the numbers on the vertical axis. The chart shows the adoption of PFM (personal financial management) tools from Fall 2010 through Spring 2012.

Based on the chart, what would you guess the growth in PFM adoption has been? From about 30% to 90%+? Sounds reasonable to me. But here’s the chart with the numbers, as displayed in the presentation deck.

Although the two bars representing Fall ’11 and Spring ’12 are twice the size of the Fall ’10 bar, the difference between the bars is just 2%, or 20% of the original bar’s total. 

Call me silly, but if one bar is twice the size of another bar, how can that bar be only 20% greater than the other one?

Bottom line: While it’s tempting to manipulate graphics to make changes look more pronounced than they really are, it’s not a good management or presentation practice. Axes should start at zero (unless the numbers reported go into the negative range). And the size of bars should be proportional to the space allotted for them. 

In other words, if your chart takes up 5 inches of space, a bar representing 20% should be about 1 inch long (or high, depending on the orientation). 

Oh, and one more thing: If you do try to quantipulate, I will find it and call you out on it. 

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