I have some data values of type date/time (the last date that a resource was accessed) and I wish to chart this data on the y-axis against the different categories of resource on the x-axis.

What would be a sensible type of chart for displaying this sort of data ? For example is a histogram / bar chart satisfactory or is there a different graph type more applicable ?

EDIT: Are bar charts for only displaying quantities - can dates be considered quantities ?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Technically speaking, a histogram is used to show summary information about a frequency distribution. I think you want to ask "Is a bar chart satisfactory?", to which I would answer Yes. If there are repeated measures on the categorical variables, then you can capture variability with a box plot, as mentioned in csgillespie's comment. $\endgroup$ Sep 7, 2010 at 2:22
  • $\begingroup$ @Josh - see updated question -> aren't bar charts for displaying quantities? : are dates quantities ? - $\endgroup$
    – Tom Carter
    Sep 7, 2010 at 7:51
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Tom - Yes, bar charts are used to display quantities, so you could use a simple dot plot or line chart too. Some would argue that bar charts have a low "information-to-ink" ratio, but it is a perfectly reasonable choice here. And yes, I would consider dates quantities, especially in this setting where the dates are "days since some event". My original comment was admittedly nitpicking: your original question asked "For example is a histogram satisfactory...", but histograms are for when the independent variable is discrete/continuous over some interval. $\endgroup$ Sep 7, 2010 at 15:41
  • $\begingroup$ One more thing: you have some votes for box plots but can you clarify if you have a single date for each category, or if you have multiple dates? $\endgroup$ Sep 7, 2010 at 16:10
  • $\begingroup$ @Josh - no problem - I understood your distinction - I think you are right about dates being a quantity and in fact that's what I was struggling to see and hence the original question. $\endgroup$
    – Tom Carter
    Sep 7, 2010 at 21:33

2 Answers 2


I presume that you have only a few resources that you are interested in? If so, then histograms are fine, or you could also try box-plots:

#Some R code
#Create random dates for resource A & resource B
dates.a = as.Date(rnorm(100, 200, 100), origin="2008-01-01")
dates.b = as.Date(rnorm(100, 300, 50), origin="2008-01-01")

df = data.frame(dates = c(dates.a, dates.b),
  type=rep(c("A", "B"), each=100))

#Plot the two resource together using boxplots
#See ?hist for histograms.

This gives:

alt text


My personal preference would be for box plots. If the distributions of date/time in one or more categories are skewed, then box plots would definitely be more informative than bars.


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