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Truncated column plots

You repeatedly display column (bar) graphs with truncated axes. This is well established to be a cognitively problematic visualization type: the “amount of ink” on a page projects sizes and draws attention.

At the same time, many of the points you are trying to convey really should have the kind of focus your truncated axes produce -- small enough but clearly significant variations that they won't be visible with a full axis.

Would you consider using a plot variation less heavily criticized? I would suggest something like a box-and-whiskers plot; or a violin plot to give a sense of the entire distributional shape.

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Accepted answer

Your analysis of the tradeoffs of truncated vs. non-truncated axis is something the authors have discussed; there isn't a right answer here, and we chose the visualization we felt struck the good balance.

With respect to box plots and violin plots, I think that's a separate issue from truncated axes -- the reader would like to see some distribution of the data, rather than just a measure of central tendency and a confidence interval. One good example is Figure 2, which does give a sense of the data distribution. It's harder to do this with the other figures, because each data point is either 0 (not accepted) or 1 (accepted), so a box/bean/violin plot doesn't work. But we're open to suggestions!

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Wherever the plots are column-with-confidence-interval-whiskers, surely you can replace the plot with a simplified box-plot showing value-and-whiskers? Of course, I would always like to see more, but I can see how this might not always be practical or all that interesting. But something like removing the big blob of ink going down from the height demonstrated would move away from the cognitive issues of column plots.

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For the first question, the answer is "no", because the plot describes a proportion of binary outcomes -- every value is 0 or 1. It's not a matter of interestingness.

On the second issue, do you mean like a using a break in the axis and bar? (http://www.extendoffice.com/documents/excel/2716-excel-chart-break-axis.html)

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I see what you mean with violin plots being unsuitable. For the box-ish display, what I'm trying to describe is something like this top crude redesign.

It's a bit like a discrete version of Figure 3, or a lean version of a boxplot, and conveys the data you are showing, without the impressions the filled in bar would suggest.

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Ah, that's interesting! Thanks for the redesign -- I like that quite a bit. It's also nice because it would make Figures 4 and 5 visually consistent with Figure 3. We'll strongly consider this.

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