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Example sparklines in small multiple
Index Day Value Change
Dow Jones Sparkline dowjones new.svg 10765.45 −32.82 (−0.30%)
S&P 500 Sparkline sp500.svg 1256.92 −8.10 (−0.64%)
Sparklines showing the movement of the Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 during February 7, 2006

A sparkline is a very small line chart, typically drawn without axes or coordinates. It presents the general shape of the variation (typically over time) in some measurement, such as temperature or stock market price, in a simple and highly condensed way. Sparklines are small enough to be embedded in text, or several sparklines may be grouped together as elements of a small multiple. Whereas the typical chart is designed to show as much data as possible, and is set off from the flow of text, sparklines are intended to be succinct, memorable, and located where they are discussed.[citation needed]


In 1983, Edward Tufte had formally documented a graphical style, then called "intense continuous time-series", encouraging extreme compaction of visual information.[1] In 2006, the term sparkline itself was introduced by Edward Tufte for "small, high resolution graphics embedded in a context of words, numbers, images".[2][3] Tufte described sparklines as "data-intense, design-simple, word-sized graphics".[4]

On May 7, 2008, Microsoft employees filed a patent application for the implementation of sparklines in Microsoft Excel 2010. The application was published on November 12, 2009,[5] prompting Tufte[6] to express concern at the broad claims and lack of novelty of the patent.[7]


Sparklines are frequently used in line with text. For example:

The Dow Jones Industrial Average for February 7, 2006 sparkline which illustrates the fluctuations in the Down Jones index on February 7, 2006.

The sparkline should be about the same height as the text around it. Tufte offers some useful design principles for the sizing of sparklines to maximize their readability.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Tufte, Edward (1983). The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. Quoted in "ET Work on Sparklines". Retrieved from
  2. ^ Bissantz & Company GmbH. "Sparklines: Another masterpiece of Edward Tufte". Archived from the original on 2007-03-11. 
  3. ^ a b Edward Tufte (November 2013). "Sparkline theory and practice". Edward Tufte forum. 
  4. ^ Edward Tufte (2006). Beautiful Evidence. Graphics Press. ISBN 0-9613921-7-7. 
  5. ^ "Sparklines in the grid". 2009-11-12. Retrieved 2009-11-19. 
  6. ^ "Sparklines in Excel". 2009-07-17. Retrieved 2009-11-20. 
  7. ^ "Microsoft makes patent claim for Sparklines". 2009-11-19. Retrieved 2009-11-19. 


Further reading[edit]