The Purpose of Numbers on a Y Axis

Every day I get a fresh pile of emails containing executive summaries and powerpoint presentations (keep them coming by the way) inquiring whether I’d be interested in exploring an investment.  I try to quickly look at them all and decide immediately whether or not I want to spend any time considering investing in the business.

There is an endless list of nitpicky things I could suggest that would improve these executive summaries and powerpoint presentations.  I’ll spare you those.  There is also an endless list of substantive things I could suggest.  For example, what is wrong with the following graph?


Um.  Not useful.  I got that you’ve had relative growth but you are missing the numbers on the y-axis.  If you think I’m a total buckethead, you’d assume I’d be impressed by this growth.  However, my first question is “so, what is the 2007 revenue?”  I looked at the next few pages in the presentation and it was nowhere to be found.

If you trust me (or are interested in me) enough to send me a ppt unsolicited, please at least give me the real quantitative data for me to react to – assuming you think it’s an important part of your presentation.  If it’s not an important part of your presentation (e.g. tiny numbers so far – nice yoy % growth, but tiny numbers) don’t include it!

At least I got a blog post out of this one.

  • I want to know why the Y/Y growth is forecast to be less in 07 than it was in 06. And what about 08? I mean, we’re in October already.

    It would be interesting to see how many reasonable questions could be asked of this graph alone…

  • Innumeracy (or deceitfulness) notwithstanding…the author should be spanked if only for the blue tissue background he put the graph on. Bleh.

  • Brad, you just hit a big pet peeve of mine as well. I think no y-axis numbers is the worst, but closely followed by those who change the scale to make a 2% change look like the numbers have doubled.

  • Charlie Wood

    I would reject the plan that included this graph on aesthetic grounds alone.


    PS. Didn’t Greh Reinacker’s first pitch to you lack Y-Axis values? Turned out OK for him…

  • Kelly Taylor


    This South Park episode comes to mind:

    The Underpants Gnomes have a three-phase business plan, consisting of:

    1. Collect Underpants
    2. ?
    3. Profit

  • If you think this is just a peeve, you should check out two books that form a thesis on this subject. Excellent books I would recommend for your reading list also, Brad!

    Author – Stephen Few

    Show me the numbers: Designing Tables and Graphs to Enlighten

    Information Dashboard Design: The Effective Visual Communication of Data

  • Steve Zweig

    Someone who sent you a graph like this is either guilty of mentally sloppy thought, or has a lack of respect in your intelligence. Either way, don’t invest.