How to create a bullet bar chart

The bullet bar or bullet graph is one of the very few "new" chart types which were not invented already a long time ago. Its creator is a data visualization expert and book author Stephen Few, who devised the concept in 2005. Though the bullet bar provides more information than a bar chart, it needs the same amount of space. It is easy to read and provides a quick visual comparison, even for people who've never seen this chart type before. 

The bullet chart is great to show how and if something achieved its goal: revenue, racing results etc. If you have a story of the (numerous) examples where targets have been missed, this is the chart to use. Think of large public building projects and how they failed to be on time and on the budget: 


Preparing and importing the data

To create this chart type, you'll need:

  • One header row containing descriptive labels.
  • One column containing categories. This will determine the label in front of each bullet bar. In our case, that's the project. 
  • Two columns containing numeric values. In each row, one number will determine the length of the outer bar and one number will determine the length of the inner bar. Please note that both columns (=outer and inner bar) should have values of the same measure/currency. In our case, that's costs in Euro.
    The two bars will later be distinguished by colors. Consider the normal bar chart type if you want to display just one column with data.

Below is the data we used to create the chart at the top of the page:

Project Planned costs Actual costs
Elbphilharmonie - This building saw costs rising 15-fold, from 70 to 600 Million Euro. 0.07 0.6
Electronic Health Insurance Card - Originally costs for the introduction where planned for 1,6 Billion Euro, experts estimate the current budget at at least 5 Billion Euro. 1.6 5
Flughafen Berlin - A series of problems lead to a rise from 2 to 4,3 Billion Euro. 2 4.3
Stuttgart 21 - Costs for Stuttgart's new railway station rose from 2 to 6,8 billion Euro. 2 6.8

Source: Spiegel Online

Once you have prepared your data, create a new chart in Datawrapper. You can do so by going to our homepage and clicking on "Start creating". In Step 1: Upload, you can either copy & paste your dataset or upload it as a .csv or as an Excel or Google Spreadsheet.  After pasting the data into Datawrapper, the text field on the right should look something like this: 

Click "Proceed" at the bottom right to go to the next step.


Check & Describe

In the second step, you can check if your dataset was imported correctly and make changes to it - if necessary. If you did not upload a header row, you have to untick "First row as label" to avoid losing your first row of data. Always remember to do this if you don't have descriptive row and column headers.

In step 2, your data should resemble the figure below- automatically sorted into columns and rows. You can see that Datawrapper correctly recognized your numbers as numbers (and not as text or dates) because they are colored in blue and are right-aligned. To learn more about the Datawrapper's automatic recognition of data formats, visit this article.

Click on "Proceed" at the bottom left to go to Step 3: Visualize.



In this step, you'll see a grid of chart types displayed under the first tab ''Chart type''. Odds are that your data will automatically be displayed as a line chart. To switch to bullet bars, click on the "Bullet Bars" symbol in the grid:

You will now see your data displayed as a bullet bar, without a title, descriptions or customized colors. The next step would be to further refine, annotate & define this chart.  We have covered this in a separate tutorial found here.