How to Use Charts and Graphs in Excel

Use charts in Excel to simplify data for the viewer

 Whether you call them charts or graphs, they are visual representations of worksheet data. Excel charts often make it easier to understand the data in a worksheet because users can easily pick out patterns and trends illustrated in the chart that are otherwise difficult to see in the data.

Types of charts in Excel

Pie Charts are used to show percentages. For example, a pie chart could show what percentage of your total daily calorie intake is represented by one cheese and bacon hamburger.

Column Charts—also known as bar graphs—are used to show comparisons between items of data. Each column in the chart represents a different data value. An example of this is using different colored columns to compare the calories in a cheese and bacon hamburger with the calories in a bowl of beet greens.

Pictograph—or pictogram—is a column chart that uses pictures to represent the data instead of the standard colored columns. So a pictograph could use hundreds of hamburger images stacked one on top of the other to show how many calories one cheese and bacon hamburger contains compared to a tiny stack of images for beet greens.

Bar Charts are column charts that have fallen over on their side. The bars or columns run horizontally along the page rather than vertically. The axes change as well—the Y axis is the horizontal axis along the bottom of the chart, and the X axis runs vertically up the left side.

Line Charts—or line graphs—are used to show trends over time. Each line in the graph shows the changes in the value of one item of data. For example, you could show changes in your weight over a period of months as a result of eating a cheese and bacon hamburger every day for lunch.

Combo Charts—combine two different types of charts into one display.

Typically, the two charts are a line graph and a column chart. To accomplish this, Excel makes use of a third axis called the secondary Y axis, which runs up the right side of the chart.

Stock Market Charts show information about stocks or shares such as their opening and closing prices and the volume of shares traded during a certain period of time. There are different types of stock charts available in Excel—each showing different information.

Newer versions of Excel also include Surface charts, XY Bubble (or Scatter) charts, and Radar charts.

Adding a Chart in Excel

The best way to learn about the various charts in Excel is to try them out.

  1. Open an Excel file that contains data.
  2. Select the range you want to graph by shift-clicking from the first cell to the last.
  3. Click on the Insert tab and select Chart from the drop-down menu.
  4. Select one of the chart types from the sub-menu. When you do, the Chart Design tab opens showing the options for the particular type of chart you chose. Make your selections and see the chart appear in the document. 

You probably need to experiment to determine which chart type works best with your chosen data, but you can look at chart type after chart type quickly to see which works best for you.