A sparkline is a small embedded line graph that illustrates a single trend. Sparklines are often used in reports, presentations, dashboards and scoreboards. They do not include axes or labels; context comes from the related content.
Usually, when a graph is included in a report, the reader has to break concentration and take time to study the graph. A sparkline minimizes the time it takes to understand what is being displayed by the graph. Sparklines commonly display trends over time, but they can be used to show any trend that could be displayed on a line graph. They are often used to illustrate stock trends, weather trends or production rates over time.
Here is an example of a rather famous sparkline that's used to illustrate the phrase "Those that play together, stay together."
The term sparkline was coined by Edward Tufte in his book "Beautiful Evidence":
"These little data lines, because of their active quality over time, are called sparklines: small, high-resolution graphics embedded in a context of words, number, images. Sparklines are data-intense, design-simple, word-sized graphics."
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Edward Tufte is known for his work in data illustration..