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 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's 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

If you want to create this chart type, your data needs to be in a certain format. 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.

That's 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 Stuttgarts new railway station rose from 2 to 6,8 billion Euro. 2 6.8

Source: Spiegel Online

Once you prepared your data, create a new chart in Datawrapper. You can do so by going to our homepage and clicking on "Create a chart". In Step 1: Upload, copy & paste your dataset, upload it as a .csv or an Excel sheet.  After pasting the data above into Datawrapper, it will look like this: 

Click "P roceed" 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 looks like this. 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-alined. 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 see a first chart. It's probably a line chart. We want to change that. To do so, click on the "Bullet Bars" symbol at the top right of the available chart types:

You will now see a bullet bar, without a title, descriptions or customized colors. Maybe you want to further refine, annotate & define this chart.  We cover this in a separate short tutorial found here.

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