By Ruben Geert van den Berg on November 7, 2017 under Blog.

New Charts in SPSS 25: How Good Are They Really?

SPSS hasn't exactly been known for generating nice charts, although you really can do so by using your own chart templates. SPSS 25, however, allows you to “create great looking charts by default!”

SPSS 25 New Chart Looks

This made me wonder: are the new charts really that great? The remainder of this article walks through the old and new looks for the big 5 charts in data analyis. All charts are based on bank_clean.sav and I'll include all syntax as well.

Overview “Big 5” Charts

ChartPurpose
HistogramSummarize Single Metric Variable
Bar Chart PercentagesSummarize Single Categorical Variable
ScatterplotShow Association Between 2 Metric Variables
Bar Chart Means by CategoryShow Association Between Metric and Categorical Variable
Stacked Bar Chart PercentagesShow Association Between 2 Categorical Variables

1. Histogram

SPSS 24 Histogram Example Histogram in SPSS 24

I'm not a big fan of the old histogram: the colors depress me and there is insufficient room between the title (“Histogram”) and the top of the figure.
The font sizes of the tick labels and statistics summary are too small. Unfortunately, you can't omit the statistics summary by syntax but you can style it or hide it altogether with a chart template.

SPSS 25 Histogram Example Histogram in SPSS 25

The new histogram has handy grid lines by default and much nicer colors. I still think some font sizes are too small but altogether, it's a huge step forward.

Histogram Syntax Example

*Basic Histogram Syntax - Typed Manually.

frequencies whours
/format notable
/histogram.

2. Bar Chart Percentages

SPSS 24 Bar Chart Percentages Bar Chart Percentages in SPSS 24

What really puzzles me with SPSS bar charts is that they are not transposed by default. With few categories, the bars become awkwardly wide. With many categories, there's insufficient room for the tick labels.

SPSS 25 Bar Chart Frequencies Bar Chart Percentages in SPSS 25

The new bar chart has much nicer styling. However, the bars are now even wider. I feel the transposed bar chart below works much better. Technically, it's the exact same chart as the previous examples, the only difference is that I applied a chart template. With this chart, I'll just increase or decrease its height, depending on the number of categories included.

SPSS 24 Bar Chart Percentages Transposed Bar Chart with Chart Template

Bar Chart Percentages Syntax Example

*Basic Bar Chart Percentages over Categories from Legacy Dialogs.

GRAPH
/BAR(SIMPLE)=PCT BY gender
/TITLE "Frequency Distribution over Gender".

3. Scatterplot

SPSS 24 Scatterplot Scatterplot in SPSS 24

The old scatterplot has a rather depressing grey background and no gridlines. However, I do think circles tend to clutter less than dots and thus were a good choice.

SPSS 25 Scatterplot Example Scatterplot in SPSS 25

The new scatterplot has gridlines by default and a much nicer white background. However, I also feel the dots tend to clutter more than the old circles and it lacks color. If I need 50 shades of grey, I'll go and find myself a book shop.

Scatterplot Syntax Example

*Basic Scatterplot - Pasted from Legacy Dialogs.

GRAPH
/SCATTERPLOT(BIVAR)=whours WITH salary
/MISSING=LISTWISE
/TITLE='Scatterplot Working Hours versus Salary'.

4. Bar Chart Means by Category

SPSS 24 Bar Chart Means By Category Bar Chart Means by Category in SPSS 24

Apart from its dull styling: not transposing bar charts may leave little room for tick labels -in this case education levels. SPSS seems to “solve” the problem by using a very tiny font size that doesn't look nice and is hard to read.

SPSS 25 Bar Chart Means By Category Bar Chart Means by Category in SPSS 25

The new bar chart has a much nicer styling: it uses a reasonable font size for the x-axis categories. However, a much smaller font size is used for the y-axis. I think this looks rather awkward.
Perhaps even more awkward is the large white space beneath the chart. It doesn't attract a lot of attention in the Output Viewer window. However, after copy-pasting the chart into a report, it becomes clear that this can't be intentional -or at least I hope it isn't.

Bar Chart Means by Category Syntax Example

*Bar Chart Means by Category - Pasted from Legacy Dialogs.

GRAPH
/BAR(SIMPLE)=MEAN(salary) BY educ
/TITLE='Mean Salaries by Education Levels'.

5. Stacked Bar Chart Percentages

SPSS 24 Stacked Bar Chart Percentages Stacked Bar Chart Percentages in SPSS 24

Regarding the old stacked bar chart, I can't help but wonder: You gotta be kidding me, right? Wrong. No kidding. This chart survived through SPSS 24. I'm not even going to discuss the looks. What I do want to point out, is that the y-axis label says “Count” instead of “Percent”. For adding injury to insult, the percent suffix is also missing from the tick labels.

SPSS 25 Stacked Bar Chart Percentages Stacked Bar Chart Percentages in SPSS 25

The new version looks way better -especially the colors! A minor change to the chart builder dialog is that it adds a title by default to the syntax. Unfortunately, the title is wrong: the chart shows “job type by education”, not “education by job type”.
Note that the y-axis is appropriately labeled “Percent” in the new version but the percent suffix is still missing from the tick labels.
And once again, not transposing the chart leaves insufficient space for the tick labels which now had to be rotated and push down the x-axis label. Surely it's a matter of personal preference but I'd rather go for the layout shown below.

SPSS Stacked Bar Chart Percentages Chart Template Example Transposed Stacked Bar Chart Percentages with Chart Template

Stacked Bar Chart Percentages Syntax Example

*Stacked Bar Chart Percentages - Pasted from Chart Builder SPSS 24.

GGRAPH
/GRAPHDATASET NAME="graphdataset" VARIABLES=educ COUNT()[name="COUNT"] jtype MISSING=LISTWISE
    REPORTMISSING=NO
/GRAPHSPEC SOURCE=INLINE.
BEGIN GPL
SOURCE: s=userSource(id("graphdataset"))
DATA: educ=col(source(s), name("educ"), unit.category())
DATA: COUNT=col(source(s), name("COUNT"))
DATA: jtype=col(source(s), name("jtype"), unit.category())
GUIDE: axis(dim(1), label("Highest completed education level"))
GUIDE: axis(dim(2), label("Count"))
GUIDE: legend(aesthetic(aesthetic.color.interior), label("Current job type"))
SCALE: cat(dim(1), include("1", "2", "3", "4", "5", "6"))
SCALE: linear(dim(2), include(0))
SCALE: cat(aesthetic(aesthetic.color.interior), include("1", "2", "3", "4", "5"))
ELEMENT: interval.stack(position(summary.percent(educ*COUNT, base.coordinate(dim(1)))),
    color.interior(jtype), shape.interior(shape.square))
END GPL.

*Stacked Bar Chart Percentages - Pasted from Chart Builder SPSS 25.

GGRAPH
/GRAPHDATASET NAME="graphdataset" VARIABLES=educ COUNT()[name="COUNT"] jtype MISSING=LISTWISE
    REPORTMISSING=NO
/GRAPHSPEC SOURCE=INLINE.
BEGIN GPL
SOURCE: s=userSource(id("graphdataset"))
DATA: educ=col(source(s), name("educ"), unit.category())
DATA: COUNT=col(source(s), name("COUNT"))
DATA: jtype=col(source(s), name("jtype"), unit.category())
GUIDE: axis(dim(1), label("Highest completed education level"))
GUIDE: axis(dim(2), label("Percent"))
GUIDE: legend(aesthetic(aesthetic.color.interior), label("Current job type"))
GUIDE: text.title(label("Stacked Bar Percent of Highest completed education level by Current ",
    "job type"))
SCALE: cat(dim(1), include("1", "2", "3", "4", "5", "6"))
SCALE: linear(dim(2), include(0))
SCALE: cat(aesthetic(aesthetic.color.interior), include("1", "2", "3", "4", "5"))
ELEMENT: interval.stack(position(summary.percent(educ*COUNT, base.coordinate(dim(1)))),
    color.interior(jtype), shape.interior(shape.square))
END GPL.

Subtitles and SPLIT FILE

Creating charts with SPLIT FILE on adds a subtitle to them. Since titles are centered by default, the logical place for the subtitle is right below the main title as shown below (“gender: female”).

SPSS 25 Split File Chart Example Scatterplot with Subtitle in SPSS 25

Alternatively, one could left align the main title and right align the subtitle as shown below. It looks nicer and makes better use of the available space.

SPSS Chart Split File Template Scatterplot with Subtitle with Chart Template

Conclusion

Most charts have seriously improved in SPSS 25. I like the gridlines and the new color cycles -except for the new scatterplots which are entirely grey. Nevertheless, I can't help but feel it was a bit of a hasty job with sometimes insufficient eye for detail.
Next, there's the question: what if I liked the old looks better? Or what if my client does not want these changes? I had a quick look around but I couldn't find any way for returning to the old looks. If they're really really gone, then this violates SPSS’ backwards compatibility.
The same goes for the new charts being wider (854 by 504 pixels) than the old charts (629 by 504 pixels). I sure hope the larger width still fits into the layout of any reports that need to be delivered.

So what do you think about the old and new charts? Please let me know by dropping a comment below.

Thanks!

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