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I am working on a report which currently uses a pie chart to display data, and frequently come across cases where there are a number of very thin slices next to each other.

Is anyone aware of research which can help inform the effective arrangement of the slices, for instance using colours with a certain minimum level of contrast next to each other or alternating thick and thin slices?

I am exploring the scope for using alternative displays of the data (including exploded pie charts), but it would be useful to know what techniques are available for making the most of the existing pie chart format.

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Pie charts generally arrange the slices in order from largest to smallest, and it is important to do so:

  • It facilitates relative comparison of slice sizes.
  • It allows one to visually gauge things like "How much of the pie do the top 3 categories account for?", which isn't possible if the largest slices aren't adjacent.

If you have many small slices, consider grouping some of them into an "other" category. It is unlikely that a visual representation of many small components is that valuable, however you do it.

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