Pictures, it’s often said, are worth a thousand words. It follows that charts may be worth a thousand numbers! Charts are easy-to-understand visuals that bring your data to life. Let’s learn how to build charts in Microsoft Excel.
How to Build Charts in Excel
Excel offers a variety of built-in chart design and formatting options. These are designed to work seamlessly with your data. For this exercise, let’s use a real-world example. Imagine that you run a chain of auto dealerships, and you want to visually chart sales from the prior month.
In one column, you have the list of locations. The rows represent sales of the three families of vehicles – cars, vans, and trucks – by location. The numbers, of course, are in no particular order, and trends and patterns aren’t necessarily easy to observe at a glance. This is a great time to use a chart.
To add a chart, click and drag your cursor to select the data. Make sure you’re including all of the row and column headers. These will become integral parts of your chart, helping your data become easy to understand visually.
Then, go to the Insert tab on Excel’s ribbon. In the middle of it, you’ll see the Charts group. Here, you can add a wide array of charts. Excel has many options, including
- Column charts (also called bar graphs). These are useful for grouping data by category.
- Line charts. These work well for illustrating trends, past performance, and future results.
- Pie charts. These are best used to show how given items fit into a whole.
You’ll also see options for scatter plots, hierarchies, statistical graphs, and more.
The key is to consider your datasets, and how they would best be visually represented. A logical choice here is to group sales figures by location. This, in essence, is grouping data by category. Column charts are a great option here.
To add a column chart, with your data still selected, click on the Column dropdown. You’ll now see a wide array of options. Each chart design button on Excel’s ribbon is actually a category, with many style and layout options contained inside.
Browse through the thumbnails. You’ll see many column chart options available to you, including:
- 2-D Column
- 3-D Column
- 2-D Bar
- 3-D Bar
Once again, remember your vision for your data. The thumbnails help preview how your data will be arranged in chart form. In this case, you wanted to place sales figures in groups by dealer location. Clustered Column charts do exactly that. Click on the thumbnail to create a Clustered Column chart.
Excel will instantly insert the chart right onto your spreadsheet. On the horizontal axis, you’ll see the four cities. On the vertical axis, notice the sales totals. A legend at the bottom spells out the color-coded vehicle families: cars in blue, vans in orange, and trucks in red.
As you can see, your table can easily transform into a compelling, easy-to-understand chart in Excel. From here, you have plenty of options. For starters, you can add a custom chart title. To do that, click into the Chart Title text box. Delete the placeholder text, then type in your own words. This is a quick way to personalize your chart and give it more context.
Notice the new tab that appeared on Excel’s ribbon: Chart Design. Here, you can add chart elements, like axis titles, gridlines, data labels, and more. Plus, you can change up the visual look and feel. Add a new design from the Styles gallery, or add your favorite colors by clicking on the Change Colors menu.
Whatever design you choose, Excel makes it easy to build stunning, compelling charts in seconds.