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Implicit Graphs

Wainer, Howard
Publication Year:
Report Number:
ETS Research Memorandum
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
Graphical Analysis


This paper discusses "implicit graphs" (nomographs), i.e., possible ways of having graphic displays give both general and specific information by providing the scales and having the specific information computable from them. It illustrates some possibilities with three existing examples: 1) a comparison of the three sectors of the work force (agriculture, industry and service) in each of France's 90 departments and Paris in 1954; 2) an "Internet Trip Time Planner" that allows one to choose the size of the information packet to be sent from the first column, pair it with a mode of transfer from the second, and read off the shipping time from the third; and 3) a "Constant dollar graph paper" which allows one to plot the current money value of anything over the time periods shown and visually compare its change in constant dollar terms with itself or with other things plotted. The author concludes that, although "graphs are often thought of as fixed conveyors of specific information...sometimes the information they carry may be implicit and it is only through interaction between the graph and a specific reader that its real functionality emerges." He further concludes that having "a database and a graphical tool with which to integrate it,..not only allows the customized preparations of answers, but ..also avoids cluttering a plot with material that is not of immediate interest."

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