Tips and phrases for explaining graphs

Do you have to explain graphs for your work or study?

There are many situations where you might have to explain graphs.  It may be for a business meeting or report.  It may be for a presentation or a research paper.  You also often have to describe or listen to talks about graphs in language tests (eg. IELTS writing task 1). Being able to explain a graph clearly and accurately in English is certainly a useful skill to have.

So, what’s important when explaining graphs?

Below are a few quick tips and phrases that can help listeners and readers understand your graphs.

Clearly introduce graph
Be sure to clearly introduce the title or topic at the beginning. Start by using phrases like “This graph shows….” Also, if you’re explaining your graph in a presentation, it’s a good idea to introduce the key labels (eg. axes and units) before talking about the data. Use phrases like “The y axis shows…”, “The x axis shows…”, and “The units here are…”

Keep language simple
Remember, the aim is to help people understand your graph, not to make long, complex sentences. Keep your language simple. Try to avoid unnecessarily repeating words. One way to do this is to use pronouns eg. “Weekly expenses increased to $10,000 in January. Then, they remained steady until June.” Another way is to use words like “respectively” eg. “The values for May and June were 350 and 430 respectively.”

Mark key points
Make sure the listeners are clear about the key points you want to say about your graph. Highlight these points using words like “Importantly…”, “Significantly…”, or “Interestingly….”

Use pointing effectively
If you are explaining the graph in a presentation, you will probably show a large picture of the graph on a slide.   Help the listeners by pointing to the relevant parts while talking.  When pointing, use language like “As you can see here”, “Here you can see” or even just “Here.”

Use hedging
After talking about the data, you often need to interpret or speculate about what it means.  Your ideas may not always be correct, so it’s a good idea to hedge your language.  Use phrases like “This data suggests…”, “This could mean…”, or “This might be because….”

Practice:

Download explaining graph worksheets & exercises (free)

Related links:

How can I explain things more clearly?

Phrases to help the audience understand your presentation