ack in January of 2002, I was thumbing through the December issue of elementkjournal's
, "Inside Microsoft Access", when I came across the MSDN article entitled, "Graphically Display Percentages on Forms and Feports"
by Sean Kavanagh. The technique shown in the article was so simple and straightforward, yet so elegant and flexible, that it sent me on a mission to find out if it could be extended to other packages. What was Sean's technique? Simple. Pick a text character and repeat it as many times as necessary to create a bar chart. While the article's specific implementation used Micrsoft Access's built-in String()
function, you can apply the same general approach in many different environments.
In fact, the capability to add visually appealing text-based bar charts to reports and applications already exists in nearly every software packageand you can apply it without much effort. Including a visual data representation in a report or analysis, can aid users in the interpretation of the data, and can often provide insights that may not otherwise have been obvious. The purpose of many data-driven applications and, certainly, of most canned reports, is to assist in the conversion of raw data into information
and it's precisely this idea of conversion of data into information that makes the topic interesting and useful. The technique is especially valuable in database applications where SQL queries might be the final output and are, inherently, tabular.
The technique outlined in this paper is simple: (1) use special text characters to serve as symbols and (2) take advantage of a particular software or programming language's built-in ability to repeat these characters as many times as necessary.
For example, Figure 1 might represent the average rating of 50 blindfolded, taste-testers randomly given three different colas. The testers were asked to rate, on a scale of 1 to 5, how well they liked the taste. The rating results may end up as an executive summary in a word processor document, or maintained and updated in a spreadsheet, or distributed via emailit doesn't matter. No matter which technology you're using, this technique will workand without using large embedded or external images or complicated graphic commands.
|Figure 1. Hypothetical mean rating for three brands of cola.|