Skip to main content

Microsoft Excel Basics Charts Guide

General Overview

General Overview

Welcome to this Microsoft Excel Basics Charts help guide*. This guide will provide information on:

  • how to create various types of charts in Excel;
  • how to lightly format those charts.

For information on how to format and organize your data as well as how to create basic formulas, click here to access our Microsoft Excel Basic Guide.

Basic components of an Excel chart

Charts (oftentimes called graphs) are visual representations of data. There are many types of charts which are each best suited for specific purposes. 

Chart definition
  • Charts typically have a title which either explains the nature of the data (example: Units Produced from 2017 to 2021) or make a point about something in the data (example: Drop in 2020 unit production due to supply chain issues) 
  • Charts are oftentimes, but not always, plotted on an XY diagram. In such cases, there is a Y axis (vertical increments) and an X axis (horizontal increments).
  • Data labels reveal something about the dataset (value, name, percentage, etc.). They can appear for a specific data point or for the entire data series.
  • Legends indicate the name of the data series and can be placed in various areas of the chart.

 


 

*Compatibility

It is important to know that Excel is not a static program and does come in many different flavours: Excel for PCs has various versions and while most of the functionality is retained from one version to the next, each iteration creates some changes to the platform. Excel also has a program for the Apple computer which has its own idiosyncrasies. Additionally, Excel has an online program which has has a truncated set of features compared to its PC counterpart. Finally, while not an Excel product, other spreadsheet programs (such as Google Sheets) do have many of the same features as the ones we will be discussing in this help guide. Please be aware of the program and version of Excel you are using. For your reference, we will be using Excel 2021 (for PC) as our help guide version. 

Line and Area Charts

Line and area charts

Line charts and area charts are useful to compare data over time (time series data). See below for a few examples of such charts.

Times series graphs

To create one:

  • Highlight the desired data.
  • Click on the Insert Line or Area Chart command button in the Charts grouping of the Insert tab ribbon.
  • You can click on any of the 2D or 3D line or area chart example to insert it in your spreadsheet.
  • Hint: Hover over the images to see how you data would appear using the various examples provided.
  • To change the title, simply double-click on the title text and change it to best represent the chart.

Formatting tips

To modify the label position an any axis,

  • Right click on the axis you wish to modify

Formatting axis

  • Select "Format Axis" in the dropdown menu
  • Click on the Labels submenu
  • Change the label position to "Low"

To modify the color of the data,

  • Right click on the data portion of the graph

Format data series

  • Choose a fill color and an outline color for your chart by clicking on the first two icons of the menu bar.
  • Hint: You can find many other ways to tweak your data by pressing on the Format Data Series option of the menu bar.

This is the result of making these two small changes to your chart:

Time series reformatted

Bar and Column Charts

Bar and column charts

Bar (horizontal) and column (vertical) charts are useful to compare data over categories. See below an example of a column chart.

Column chart

To create one:

  • Highlight the desired data.
  • Click on the Insert Column or Bar Chart command button in the Charts grouping of the Insert tab ribbon.
  • You can click on any of the 2D or 3D column and bar chart example to insert it in your spreadsheet.
  • Hint: Hover over the images to see how you data would appear using the various examples provided.

Formatting tips

To modify the numbering (minimum value, maximum value, value interval) an the y axis,

  • Right click on the axis you wish to modify
Formatting y axis
  • Select "Format Axis" in the dropdown menu
  • Set the minimum (we left this at 0), the maximum (we changed this to 15 million), and the interval (we changed this to 3 million).

To modify the color and label of the data,

  • Right click on the data portion of the chart.
    • The first time you click, the entire data will be highlighted. This is perfect if you wish to make changes of the entire dataset.
    • Click on a particular data (we chose NB) to change that part of the chart and leave the rest as is.
  • Right click to activate the side menu bar.
Reformatting column chart
  • Choose a fill color and an outline color for your chart by clicking on the first two icons of the menu bar.
  • Click on the "Add Data Labels" option.

This is the result of making these two small changes to your chart (and altering/bolding the title):

Column chart reformatted

 

Pie and Doughnut Charts

Pie and doughnut charts

Pie or doughnut charts are useful to compare data as a portion (or percentage) of a whole. See below for an example of a pie chart.

Pie chart

To create one:

  • Highlight the desired data.
  • Click on the Insert Pie or Doughnut Chart command button in the Charts grouping of the Insert tab ribbon.
  • You can click on any of the 2D or 3D pie chart or the 2D doughnut chart examples to insert it in your spreadsheet.
  • Hint: Hover over the images to see how you data would appear using the various examples provided.

Formatting tips

To create and modify the data labels and to change the color of a chart,

  • Right click on the pie chart itself to activate the side menu bar
Pie chart data labels
  • Click on the "Add Data Labels" option.
  • Then right click again and choose the "Format data labels" option
    • From there, choose the labels you wish to appear on the chart. In this example, "Category name" (response type) and "Percentage" were chosen.
  • To change the color of the chart, right click on the pie chart
    • Choose a fill color and an outline color for your chart by clicking on the first two icons of the menu bar.

This is the result of making these two small changes to your chart (as well as altering/bolding the title and removing the bottom legend):

Pie chart reformatted

 

Scatter and Bubble Charts

Scatter and bubble charts

Scatter charts are useful to compare data that has two numeric variables. See below for an example of a scatter chart.

Scatter chart original

To create one:

  • Highlight the desired data (x and y values).
  • Click on the Insert Scatter or Bubble Chart command button in the Charts grouping of the Insert tab ribbon.
  • You can click on any of the scatter or bubble charts examples to insert it in your spreadsheet.
  • Hint: Hover over the images to see how you data would appear using the various examples provided.

Formatting tips

You will notice that the data appears compressed on the original scatter plot. To change this, simply modify the numbering (minimum value, maximum value, value interval) an axis by:

  • Right clicking on the axis you wish to modify
  • Selecting "Format Axis" in the dropdown menu
  • Setting the minimum and maximums (we left this at 0 and changed it to 16 on the y axis and 68 and 88 on the x axis), and the interval (we left this unchanged on both axes).

You can also make other formatting modifications by clicking anywhere on the chart and pressing the "+" button on the top right corner:

Scatter plot modifications

In this case, we added axes titles in order to better orient the audience. We also removed the gridlines and added a trendline to express the pattern inherent in the dataset. 

This is the result of making these four small changes to your chart (as well as altering/bolding the title):

Scatter chart final

 

More Information More Information