What is a Venn Diagram? (Including Application and Creation)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 21 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A Venn diagram is a useful tool for demonstrating the relationship between two or more things. You may use this type of diagram to analyse information or present it visually to other people. Understanding how to create and use these diagrams can help you use these tools more effectively. In this article, we explain what a Venn diagram is, how to use one and how you can create your own.

What is a Venn diagram?

A Venn diagram is a visual tool for comparing the relationship between separate entities using overlapping shapes. Each shape represents an individual, group or concept known as a set. The most common Venn diagrams use overlapping circles to show what two or more sets have in common. This diagram represents commonalities with overlapping areas, called intersections. The shape area outside the intersections shows differences between the sets. Venn diagrams share their name with their creator, English logician John Venn.

Types of Venn diagram

There are three main types of Venn diagrams that show how items compare:

Original Venn diagrams

John Venn developed the following basic types of Venn diagrams:

  • Two-circle Venn diagram: This diagram compares two sets using two overlapping circles. The circles usually sit side by side and overlap vertically.

  • Three-circle Venn diagram: This diagram compares three sets using three overlapping circles. Two circles are side-by-side while the third sits beneath them and intersects horizontally.

  • Four-circle Venn diagram: This diagram compares four sets. It may feature three overlapping circles and a curved shape or four overlapping ellipses.

  • More complex Venn diagrams: Venn compared more than four sets with diagrams featuring three overlapping circles and curved shapes. Each extra set, represented by a curve, insects with the curves and original circles.

Grünbaum's Venn diagram

Branko Grünbaum developed a Venn diagram for comparing five items with five congruent, rotationally symmetrical ellipses. The ellipses in a Branko Grünbaum's diagram meet at a major intersection, creating 25 smaller intersections and 31 regions.

Edwards' Venn diagrams

Anthony William Fairbank Edwards created alternative Venn diagrams for comparing three or more items:

  • Three-set Venn diagram: This diagram compares three items with two rectangles and a circle. The horizontal and vertical rectangles intersect the circle at right angles.

  • Four-set Venn diagram: This diagram adds a bow-tie shape, inspired by the seam of a tennis ball, to Edwards' three-set Venn diagram. This shape sits around the centre of the circle.

  • More complex Venn diagram: Edwards compared more than five sets by adding cogwheel shapes to the centre of Edwards' four-set Venn diagram. Each successive cogwheel has twice the number of teeth as the previous one.

Advantages of a Venn diagram

Here are some of the advantages of comparing items with a Venn diagram:

  • It's easy to understand. Venn diagrams visually show the relationship between sets with a few words or bullet points. They can help people see what sets have in common, for example, at a glance.

  • It's visual. The visual nature of Venn diagrams makes them an engaging tool for presentations. The use of different colours and graphics can further enhance a Venn diagram's visual appeal.

  • It's memorable. Venn diagrams use shapes and often colours to convey information. These visual aids stay in the mind and help people recall data.

When to use a Venn diagram

Professionals use these diagrams in a range of fields including mathematics, science, marketing and finance. You may use a Venn diagram in one of the following situations:

To solve a problem

A Venn diagram can help you solve a problem by presenting information in an easily assessable format. These diagrams may help mathematicians solve union problems, intersection problems, symmetric problems and absolute problems. They can also help professionals solve other problems, such as helping scientists understand why animal populations are decreasing in an environment while other populations thrive.

Related: Problem-Solving Skills: Definitions and Examples

To analyse the market

You could use a Venn diagram to compare the characteristics of different markets a business operates. For example, a Venn diagram could show whether a business's products appeal to similar or different demographics in different regions. This analysis could help the business adjust its marketing approach for different cities or countries to appeal to its consumers.

Related: How to Become a Market Researcher

To compare the business with competitors

You could use a Venn diagram to compare how the business is similar and different to a competing business. A two-circle Venn diagram is a good option for this, as it can clearly show what the two businesses have in common and where they differ. Some differences may include products, marketing channels and price points. This diagram can help you develop strategies to increase the business' performance over a competitor.

To compare products

You could use a Venn diagram to compare ideas for new or existing products. Comparing the features and benefits of different product ideas can help you decide which product is more likely to appeal to consumers. Comparing existing products can help you decide which ones to continue or discontinue.

To classify items

You could also use a Venn diagram to classify items. For example, you could create a diagram showing the similarities and differences between different categories of toys a company sells. This diagram could help a company decide whether a robotic bear is best classified as a plush toy or video game, depending on its features. The classification may impact the new toy's marketing strategy and store placement.

To make business decisions

You could use a Venn diagram to compare any two or more options you're trying to decide between. You may use a shape to represent each alternative, then list how they're similar and different. Seeing this information laid out visually may lead you towards the best choice or help you relay information to others who could help you make the decision.

Related: Decision-Making Skills: Definition With Tips

To make predictions

Venn diagrams also help you determine the probability of certain scenarios. For example, a diagram can teach you the likelihood of a random consumer speaking a language other than English. You could survey a sample of consumers and draw a diagram with each shape representing a different language. Entering the number of people surveyed who speak a single language or multiple languages into the relevant sections of the diagram lets you easily see how many people in your sample speak different languages. You can then use this information to create probability equations.

To teach others

Venn diagrams present information in an easily understood format, so they're excellent teaching tools. You might use this type of diagram in a presentation to break down complex information. Teachers often use Venn diagrams to present information to their students. For example, you could use a Venn diagram to help students understand how the characters in a novel are similar in some ways and different in others.

How to create a Venn diagram

Follow these steps to create a Venn diagram:

1. Select your sets

Select the sets for your Venn diagram. Choosing related sets can keep your information manageable. For example, a biologist may create a diagram to compare two or three local bird species. Their comparison can help them understand why some bird populations are succeeding. Comparing bird species is more manageable than a comparison between a bird and a kangaroo, which are very different creatures with few overlapping similarities. Choosing the smallest number of relevant sets for comparison also helps you create a clear Venn diagram.

2. Draw overlapping shapes to represent sets

Draw an overlapping shape for each set. Overlapping circles are the most common and easily understood for Venn diagrams. Ensure a section of each shape overlaps with each other shape in your diagram.

3. Label your Venn diagram and items

Write a title for your Venn diagram that explains the relationship between your sets. For example, the biologist above may title their diagram Kingfisher species in the Daintree Rainforest. Then label each shape in your diagram. You may place your label near the shape or create a colour-coded key. For example, the biologist may label their shapes buff-breasted paradise-kingfisher and little kingfisher.

4. Research each item's characteristics

Research your item's key characteristics using a variety of credible resources, such as company data, academic papers and industry journals. You may write notes about your findings using bullet points, paying extra attention to the similarities and differences between your items.

5. Organise your data in your Venn diagram

Copy your data into the relevant sections of your diagram. Shared data goes in the overlapping sections of the shapes. Data unique to each set sits in the non-overlapping sections of the shapes. After completing your diagram, you can use it for presentations or further analysis.

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