Choosing the Best Day Trading Chart Time Frame

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Graphical trading charts can be based on many different time frames or even on non-time-related parameters such as number of trades or price range. With an essentially infinite number of choices, choosing the best time frame or other variable for a particular trading style and type of asset can seem like a daunting task. But if you are trading smartly, it actually becomes a very simple task.

How New Traders Choose a Time Frame

Many new traders spend days, weeks, or even months trying every possible time frame or parameter in an attempt to find the one that makes their trading profitable. They try 30-second charts, five-minute charts, and so on and then they try all of the non-time-based options, including ticks and volume. When none of them makes a profit, they think they made an incorrect choice and try them all again, assuming they must have missed something the first time through.

When they still don't find a profitable choice, they adjust their trading system or technique slightly and then try all of the time frames again, and so on.

The thinking behind this dogged effort to choose the right chart time frame or other trading parameter is that each trading system or technique—and probably every market too—has one optimal time frame or other variable that it will work best with. If that belief sounds reasonable to you, then be careful, because you may be about to enter the never-ending time frame search from which many new traders never emerge.

How Professional Traders Choose a Time Frame

Professional traders spend about 30 seconds choosing a time frame, if that, because their choice of time frame isn't based on their trading system or technique—or the market in which they're trading—but on their own trading personality.

For example, traders who tend to make many trades throughout the trading day might choose a shorter time frame, while traders who typically make only one or two trades per trading day might choose a longer time frame. Traders may also switch their time frame on a given day depending on how actively they're trading.

The reason professional traders do not spend endless amounts of time searching for the best time frame is that their trading is based on market dynamics, and market dynamics apply in every time frame.

The Irrelevance of Time

When evaluating a certain time frame with regard to your trading method, a price pattern that has significance on a two-minute chart will also have significance on a two-hour chart, and if it does not, then it is not a relevant price pattern after all. In other words, if your trading system or technique is not making a profit, there is nothing wrong with the time frame; the fault is with your trading system or technique.

Other Trading Parameters

Finally, trading parameters that are not based on time should generally be used only with trading systems that are specifically designed to use them. For example, if a trading system has been created using a 100-tick chart—with a move occurring after 100 transactions have taken place—then a 100-tick chart should be used. If a trading pattern is based on the size of a price move, then time isn't important and you should select a chart, such as a Renko chart, that enables you to base the chart on price movement.

Having said that, there is nothing wrong with using non-time-based variables. If you prefer them visually and find them easier to read, then go ahead and use them. But beginning traders shouldn't assume that one of them has some inherent advantage over another or over a time frame format.

The Balance does not provide tax, investment, or financial services and advice. The information is being presented without consideration of the investment objectives, risk tolerance, or financial circumstances of any specific investor and might not be suitable for all investors. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Investing involves risk including the possible loss of principal.