Surfstat.australia: an online text in introductory Statistics



The frequency distribution of a discrete quantitative variable may be summarised in a bar chart, as explained in the last section. The frequency distribution of a continuous quantitative variable can be constructed in the same way by first grouping the observations.

That is, by choosing a set of contiguous non-overlapping intervals, called class intervals, the observations can be grouped to form a discrete variable from the continuous variable.

The following data set will be used to illustrate various concepts and methods.

Commodore Data

Prices of n=38 second-hand Commodores from classified advertisements in the Newcastle Herald on 23 February 1991 - all models and all years were included but damaged vehicles were excluded.

6000 6700 3800 7000 5800 9975 10500 5990
20000 11990 16500 10750 9500 12995 12500 8000
9900 18000 9500 9400 7250 15000 4500 8900
9850 9000 5800 29500* 15000 9000 4250 4990
11000 9990 2200 4000 13500 14500

* This car was described as 'prototype, exclusive, group A look alike' (ie similar to cars used for racing).


Charts which show the frequency distributions of continuous variables form an important class of descriptive statistics and are called histograms. Unlike bar charts, they are drawn without gaps between the bars because the x-axis is used to represent the class intervals. They provide a useful visual impression of the principal characteristics of the frequency distribution.

Example - Commodore prices

Draw rectangles over each interval so that

area of rectangle = frequency (or relative frequency)

But area = length x height

So if all intervals are the same length, L

Heights are directly proportional to the frequencies only if all intervals are the same length.

For the histogram shown above, for the Commodore prices, the interval "20000 or more" was changed to four intervals, 20000 - 22999, 23000 - 25999, 26000 - 28999, 29000 - 31999 in order to have properly defined endpoints and equal lengths for all intervals.

If intervals are not all of the same length then heights have to be scaled so that each area is proportional to the frequency for that interval.

In MINITAB the command is

Note MINITAB rotates the histogram 90 degrees.

Java applet "Histogram"


Here is another histogram applet, by R. Webster West, Dept. of Statistics, Univ. of South Carolina.


A histogram groups the data into just a few intervals. A dotplot groups the data as little as possible. Dotplots tend to be more useful with small data sets. Dotplots are useful if you want to compare two or more sets of data. For larger data sets, group the data and draw a histogram.

Example - The Commodore price data

MTB > DotPlot 'price'.

Related topics


Progress check

  1. A histogram is constructed for a large data set. Which of the following are true statements? (a) the median divides the area of the histogram into two equal parts (b) the data are continuous numeric (c) the mean is found under the tallest column
  2. In a histogram, what property of each rectangle represents the frequency of observations in the range it covers?

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