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A Step-by-Step Guide to Building an Excel Graph [Quick Tip]

by Sara Davidson

May 3, 2013 at 2:00 PM

Building graphs is part of most people's jobs -- they're the best way to present information in a clear, easily digestible manner that can then serve to influence the decision-making process within an organization. But there are some people out there that get a little bit intimidated by the prospect of poking around in Excel. I, however, adore the thing (I work in Marketing Ops, so it's pretty much a requirement). So I thought I'd share some step-by-step instructions for anyone out there that cringes at the thought of sorting a

spreadsheet full of data into a chart that actually, you know, means something. Here are the simple steps you need to build a graph in Excel.

Step 1: Get your data into Excel .

First, you need to input your data into Excel. This is the easy part! You may have exported the data from elsewhere, like a piece of marketing software or a survey tool. Or, you might be inputting it manually. In the example below, in Column A, I have a list of the responses to the question Did inbound marketing demonstrate ROI?, and in Columns B,C, and D, I have the responses to the question Does your company have a formal sales-marketing agreement?. For example, Column C, Row 2 illustrates that 49% of people who have an SLA also say that inbound marketing demonstrated ROI.

Step 2: Choose a type of graph to create .

You have plenty of choices for charts and graphs to create. This data will look best in a bar graph, so let's pursue making that one. To make a bar graph, highlight the data and include the titles of the X and Y axis. Go to the Insert tab, click Charts, click Column, and choose the graph you wish (in

this example I will be picking the first 2-D Column choice -- just because I prefer it over the 3-D look).

Step 3: Switch axes , if necessary .

If you want to switch what appears on the X and Y axis, right click on the bar graph, click Select Data, and click Switch Row/Column.

Step 4: Adjust your labels and legends , if desired .

To change the layout of the labeling and legend, click on the bar graph, then click the Layout tab. Here you can choose what layout you prefer for the chart title, axis titles, and legend. In my example, I clicked on Chart Title, and selected Above Chart. To format the X axis title, I clicked on Axis Titles, clicked Primary Horizontal Axis Title, and clicked Title Below Axis. To format the Y axis title, I clicked on Axis Titles, clicked 'Primary Vertical Axis Title, and chose Rotated Title. To change the placement of the legend, click Legend on the Layout tab and choose your preferred location.

Step 5: Change the Y axis measurement options , if desired .

To change the type of measurement shown on the Y axis, right click on the Y axis percentages, and click Format Axis. Here you can decide if you want to display units located on the Axis Options tab, or if you want to change whether the Y axis shows percentages to 2 decimal places or to 0 decimal places.

The resulting graph would be changed to look like this:

Step 6: Reorder data , if desired .

To sort the data so that the software choices appear in descending popularity order, click on the column that is most important to you (in this case I picked column B), click on the Data tab, and click Filter. Then go back to Column B and click the down arrow and click Sort Largest to Smallest.

If you click on the downward arrows located at B1 and C1, you can choose to sort based on smallest to largest or largest to smallest, depending on your preference. Here, I sorted largest to smallest on B1.

Pretty easy, right? What other Excel functions have you always wanted help with? Image credit: CraigMoulding

Jim Payne

2:45 PM on May 03, 2013

It would be nice to show people the F11 function instead of embedding a graph onto their data page.

It's cleaner, and helps for consistent formatting as you transfer your graphs to reports. Shazaam!


3:27 PM on May 03, 2013

I'd love a step by step on creating pivot tables to illustrate data and trends.


4:01 PM on May 03, 2013

Ditto on Kristin's request

Sonny Parker

4:39 PM on May 03, 2013

I am building a YouTube channel with 1000's of howto videos for PC applications. You should find these tasks at


5:40 PM on May 03, 2013

You should make a guide for OpenOffice Calc too!

PetsCo PetShop Online

May 03, 2013

6:49 PM on

Thanks Good article, I'm using my best to rank online petshop


7:06 PM on May 03, 2013

Love! This will help me add some nice visuals to my banking spreadsheet!

Randall Magwood

8:42 PM on May 03,

I actually learned a little bit of this in college and from bulk uploading items to Amazon and Tradebit. But this is a great refresher about Excel.

Rajeev Ranjan

10:19 PM on May 03, 2013

hey great tutorial for the beginner like me.

TCC Sampit

11:56 PM on May 03, 2013

thank you for the tutorial, great article and very useful. Greetings TCC Sampit.


2:32 AM on May 04, 2013

Whoa! I never knew Excel had these many features. I used to design graphics wherever I wanted graphs or charts. Duh! Thanks for explaining.


3:35 AM on May 04, 2013

This is awesome, Sara! Thanks for the easy tips!

Ian Grindey

6:59 AM on May 04, 2013

This is the most clearly written set of instructions I've ever read. Thank you. Sales charts are not really my thing but excel does far more than most people could imagine, so I'll be watching this blog for more excel tips.

Danny Hall

7:35 AM on May 04, 2013

What a great piece. I've bookmarked this and will be using in future. Also ditto on Kristen's comment.


8:18 AM on May 04, 2013

Hubspot article thank you very helpful at all. My step by step always read your article carefully to business strategy


8:33 AM on May 04, 2013

I have tried a very nice program of works. I would recommend. thenk u


2:06 PM on May 04, 2013

Thanks again, always nice to have this tool under my belt. It's great info as always

Yogesh Goplani

2:20 PM on May 04, 2013

A great tutorial Sara. Thank you.

Rob Jansen

4:53 PM on May 04, 2013

Your post has uncanny timing. I've been using graphs off an internet site. Next on my to-do list was to learn how to make Excel graphs.


7:29 PM on May 04, 2013

There are so many features in Excel that most people don't even know about and this post illustrates that point. I'm a big visual person making snazzy graphs is important to me.


6:42 AM on May 05, 2013

I use Excel quite a lot but I picked up a couple of new ideas from that - thanks Sara. As marketers I guess we often present data in a textual format where it would be far better to represent it visually. The above is proof of that. Regards

Gracious Store

4:39 PM on May 05, 2013

Thanks for sharing with us how to represent data in graphic format using excel


1:39 PM on May 06, 2013

Hi Sara! Thanks for the nice writing. One thing is clear that if anyone wants to be successful, he/she have to be aware about his current working situation and the condition of improvement . So i think using Excel graph could be a great idea. :)

Jake Roslyn

1:39 PM on May 06, 2013

Excellent post. I often find as well, that the most simplest aspect of Excel graphs that folk miss is a Descriptive Heading.. It helps you to more effectively communicate what you're showing in your graph to others... Regards JR


2:40 AM on May 10, 2013

Without the help of other software, we've been able to create a graph from excel Bookmark it ....

Daniela Persichetti

8:18 AM on July 02,

Even if it's a basic excel tutorial its still very useful :)

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