How to Visualize Proportions in R
There are many ways to show parts of a whole. Here are quick one-liners for the more common ones.
You can visualize proportions in a lot of ways. However, there are visualization types that are commonly used, which typically means they’re more commonly understood by a lot of people.
In this tutorial, we quickly go through what you can use in R, focusing on the types that maintain the parts-of-a-whole metaphor. I won’t harp on whether a method is useful or not. Instead, I’ll give you the tools, and you can decide what you want to do with it.
Before Getting Started
This is an R tutorial, so you should have R installed to work through the examples. Here’s a short guide here if you don’t have it yet.
You also need some data. With the R console open, enter the below for some numbers to work with.
# Some data pct <- c(10, 20, 30, 40) shades <- c("white", "lightgray", "darkgray", "black") categories <- c("a", "b", "c", "d")
And that’s it. You use one package, but you can install that when the example comes.
How can you not start with this one? Base R provides
pie() to make everyone’s favorite proportional chart. Pass a vector of values, and the function does the rest. If you pass raw counts, the function does the math for percentages. Optionally, you can specify label names with the
labels parameter and color with
col. The order of these vectors should correspond to the values vector.
pie(pct, labels = categories, col = shades)
As expected, here’s your pie chart in all its circular glory.
R doesn’t provide a donut chart function out of the box, but you can quickly make one by modifying a pie chart. Just slap a circle in the middle using
pie(pct, labels = categories, col = shades) symbols(0, 0, circles = 1, add=TRUE, bg="white")
The first line with
pie() is the same as the previous example. As for
symbols(), you pass the x- and y-coordinate, which is (0, 0) in this case, set the circle radius to 1, add to the existing pie, and set the color to white.
Sorry, I couldn’t resist.
Square Pie Chart
We covered these in a previous tutorial. Again, there’s no function from base R, but we can use the custom function from said tutorial for a
To change your working directory: In RStudio, go to the Session → Set Working Directory menu. In standard R, go to Misc → Change Working Directory.Before you use
source() to load square-pie-chart.R, make sure your current working directory in R is set to where you downloaded this tutorial’s code.
squarePie() function takes a vector of values and a corresponding vector of colors.
source("lib/square-pie-chart.R") squarePie(pct, col = shades, main="")
For more on square pie charts, check out the tutorial.
The area graph can be useful to show proportions over time. Like the square pie chart, we covered these in a previous tutorial, and the end result was a function we can reuse.
First, load the code with
source(). Again, your working directory must be set to this tutorial’s download folder.
Then we create a data frame where each row represents a layer of the area graph. Each column represents a segment of time.
pct_over_time <- rbind(pct1=pct, pct2=2*pct) pct_df <- data.frame(pct_over_time)
Plug the data frame into
type to 1 or 2 for different baseline offsets.
For more on area charts, check out the tutorial.
Stacked Bar Chart
You can view the contents of any data structure in R by entering the variable name. For example, enter “pct_over_time” to see what the matrix looks like.The stacked bar chart is the stacked area chart’s discrete cousin. The
barplot() function in R will take care of it for you, but instead of the data frame used with
areaGraph(), you provide a matrix.
This one relies on a package, aptly named treemap. Use
install.packages() to install, as shown below. Then load the package with
install.packages("treemap", dependencies = TRUE) library(treemap)
The function takes a data frame of values, categories, and colors as its columns. So each row of the data frame represents a value, what color and/or size the rectangle in the treemap should be, and what it should be labeled.
vals <- data.frame(pct=pct, cat=categories, col=shades)
?treemap to see more options.Pass the newly constructed data frame to
treemap(), and then use the column names to specify what makes what. In this example, the
index (i.e. the categories) is the “cat” column, the size of the rectangle (
vSize parameter) is based on “pct”, color (
vColor) is set by “col”, and set
type to “color” to specify that colors are already defined.
treemap(vals, index="cat", vSize="pct", vColor="col", type="color")
Treemaps are actually more useful for hierarchical data, but this kind of works too.
That should cover about 90 percent of your proportion problems easily. Of course, there’s no rule that you must stick to the parts-of-a-whole metaphor. So if you’re willing to get away from that, you can use other stand-bys like a bar chart or a dot plot.
Want more visualization goodness? Become a member and learn about tools and process.Join Now
More Tutorials See All →
How to Make Smoothed Density Maps in R
Too many points to plot often means obscured patterns in the clutter. Density maps offer a smooth alternative.
How to Display Text in R
Text can provide much needed context to traditional visual cues and can be used as a visual cue itself in some cases.
How to Make Line Charts in R
Learn to draw lines wherever and however you want, and you’ve got yourself some flexibility.