Paper: Flawed charts in pension fund popular reports


I’m happy to announce the publication of a new journal article focusing on badly-designed charts in pension fund reports. Below is the abstract. If you have any questions or comments about it, feel free to email me at

My favorite data vis would be the below, showing the errors in a published chart. There are several others, showing issues with a non-zero vertical axis, area v. height confusion, and 3D charts.



The purpose of this study was to investigate how pension funds use charts in popular reports. Popular reports communicate a fund’s financial health to non-technical audiences, and often contain charts, tables, and other graphical elements. Do these graphics meet audiences’ information needs and align with chart best practices?


This study focused on the 60 retirement funds receiving a 2021 popular report award from the Government Finance Officers Association. The author analyzed each graphic’s topic and design.


Most funds presented key topics (such as funding rate and portfolio return), but they generally lacked helpful benchmarks or peer comparisons. A total of 30% of reports had one or more broken charts, where their visual elements did not match the underlying data. A total of 70% of the reports contained at least one badly designed chart. These design flaws included non-zero (truncated) axes, hidden non-zero axes and misleading 3D perspectives.


To the best of the authors’ knowledge, this paper is the first to examine chart quality in pension fund popular reports.