Fan chart (statistics)

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A dispersion fan diagram (left) in comparison with a box plot Dispersionfan+boxplot-en.pdf
A dispersion fan diagram (left) in comparison with a box plot

A fan chart is made of a group of dispersion fan diagrams, which may be positioned according to two categorising dimensions. A dispersion fan diagram is a circular diagram which reports the same information about a dispersion as a box plot: namely median, quartiles, and two extreme values.

Box plot method for graphically depicting groups of numerical data through their quartiles

In descriptive statistics, a box plot or boxplot is a method for graphically depicting groups of numerical data through their quartiles. Box plots may also have lines extending vertically from the boxes (whiskers) indicating variability outside the upper and lower quartiles, hence the terms box-and-whisker plot and box-and-whisker diagram. Outliers may be plotted as individual points. Box plots are non-parametric: they display variation in samples of a statistical population without making any assumptions of the underlying statistical distribution. The spacings between the different parts of the box indicate the degree of dispersion (spread) and skewness in the data, and show outliers. In addition to the points themselves, they allow one to visually estimate various L-estimators, notably the interquartile range, midhinge, range, mid-range, and trimean. Box plots can be drawn either horizontally or vertically. Box plots received their name from the box in the middle.

Median quantile

The median is the value separating the higher half from the lower half of a data sample. For a data set, it may be thought of as the "middle" value. For example, in the data set {1, 3, 3, 6, 7, 8, 9}, the median is 6, the fourth largest, and also the fifth smallest, number in the sample. For a continuous probability distribution, the median is the value such that a number is equally likely to fall above or below it.

A quartile is a type of quantile. The first quartile (Q1) is defined as the middle number between the smallest number and the median of the data set. The second quartile (Q2) is the median of the data. The third quartile (Q3) is the middle value between the median and the highest value of the data set.



The elements of a dispersion fan diagram [1] are:

  1. a circular line as scale
  2. a diameter which indicates the median
  3. a fan (a segment of a circle) which indicates the quartiles
  4. two feathers which indicate the extreme values.

The scale on the circular line begins at the left with the starting value (e. g. with zero). The following values are applicated clockwise. The white tail of diameter indicates the median. The dark fan indicates the dispersion of the middle half of the observed values; thus it encompasses the values from the first to the third quartile. The white feathers indicate the dispersion of the middle 90% of the observed values.

The length of the white part of the diameter corresponds with the number of observations.


A fan chart gives a quick summary of observed values which depend from two variables. This is possible thanks of a dense representation and a constant size which does not depend on the size of the single dispersion fan diagrams.

An essential advantage compared to a sequence of box plots is the possibility to compare dispersion fan diagrams not only within one direction but within two directions (horizontally and vertically).


The following example presents data from the data set MathAchieve which is part of the R package nlme of José Pinheiro et al. [2] It contains mathematics achievement scores of 7185 students. The students are categorised according to sex and membership of a minority ethnic group.

7185 mathematics achievement scores: Results according to sex and membership of a minority ethical group Fanchart-mathachieve-0912-en.gif
7185 mathematics achievement scores: Results according to sex and membership of a minority ethical group

The graphics show the mathematics achievement scores in dependency on the socio-economic status of the students (x axis) and on the average socio-economic status of all students at the same school (y axis). The four graphic panels differentiate the students according to sex and membership of a minority ethnic group.

The fan charts reveals clearly how the median value is partially following a big main tendency while the values of the single subgroups (with the cells) scatter largely what could lead to doubts about a possible correlation.

See also

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  1. Fischer, Wolfram (2010). Neue Grafiken zur Datenvisualisierung. Band 1. Speichengrafiken, Streuungsfächerkarten, Differenz-, Sequenz- und Wechseldiagramme [New Graphics For Data Visualisation. Volume 1. Spoke Plots, Fan Charts, Difference, Sequence and Change Diagrams]. Wolfertswil: ZIM. ISBN   978-3-905764-06-2.
  2. Pinheiro, José; Bates, Douglas; et al. (2013) [1999]. "nlme: Linear and Nonlinear Mixed Effects Models". CRAN (The Comprehensive R Archive Network).