A new look at an old study on information display: Washburne (1927) reconsidered

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Washburne (1927) conducted the largest study to date on the display of quantitative information with tables and graphs. Measuring the accuracy of information recall, he concluded that bar graphs are particularly suited for complex comparisons between values, pictographs are best for simple comparisons, line graphs are best for identifying and comparing trends, and tables are best for specific values. These conclusions have intuitive appeal and were quoted in the literature on comparative displays. A reanalysis of the results indicates that only the claim that tables are best for recalling specific values is clearly supported by Washburne's data. The other conclusions were probably accepted without questioning because they appeal to intuition. Additional findings of the study, such as the importance of the logical ordering of items in a display, were not acknowledged in subsequent studies. In human factors, as in other fields, naive preconceptions exist which can impede the acquisition of new knowledge.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)333-340
Number of pages8
JournalHuman Factors
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1997
Externally publishedYes


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