Microsoft Excel #12: Charts – Part 1
The old saying goes “A picture is worth 1000 words.” That’s why we use charts and graphs; to make the information we’re trying to present easier to understand. This is the first of three handouts on using charts and graphs in Excel. Charts and Graphs: Same Difference That’s right, as far as we and Excel are concerned, the terms chart and graph are not only interchangeable, but they mean the same thing (and yes, I know that’s both repetitive and redundant). If you’ve been taught that those two words mean different things, you’ll just have to get used to this new reality, and accept the possibility that maybe what you were taught is a chart is really at table (something we won’t discuss here). And for those of you who hate the term “same difference,” claiming that it doesn’t make sense since “same” and “different” are opposites, I give you the two math equations 12-7 and 9-4. Both of these equations have an answer of 5, and the answer to a subtraction problem is called the difference. Therefore, since these two problems have the same difference, the term makes perfect sense. Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, let’s get down to business. Why Use Graphs You’d think there would be no reason for me to go over this here, since I already talked about it in the very first paragraph, but it really does need to be mentioned again because a lot of people (especially middle schoolers) don’t quite grasp one very important point: we use charts and graphs to try to make the information we’re presenting easier to understand. Where do people get messed up here? It’s where they forget what the real purpose of the chart is, and spend inordinate amounts of time trying to make it look “pretty” or “cool,” often making the graph harder to read and understand as a result. With that in mind, remember that the simplest graph is often the best graph. It doesn’t have a lot of extra stuff to confuse and distract the reader. When you start getting all fancy, you run the risk of making the chart hard to understand. Three Types of Charts Excel can make many different types of charts, but the main three varieties are pie, line/x-y, and column/bar. Each of them has a different use, which is shown in the table below. Chart Type Pie Line/X-Y Column/Bar Used For Showing p e r c e n t a g e s of the whole group, where everyone is accounted for either specifically or by having a category for other. Showing change over time for a small group, or for progressions. Showing more general comparisons or for change over time for a larger group. This is a table, not a chart
There’s a little more information on the next page.
G-Tips: Microsoft Excel #12: Charts – Part 1
More on Those Chart Types and When to Use Them I promised you a little more information, and here it is! Pie A pie chart is used to show the percentage or proportion of the whole group. Excel gives you six choices for types of pie charts, but unless you really know what you’re doing, it’s wise to stick with only the two that are highlighted on the right. Line/XY A standard line chart is used to show change over time, and is used when your time sequences are represented by words (like Week 1, Week 2, and Week 3 or January, February, and March). Excel gives you seven line chart choices, but unless you really know what you’re doing, you should stick with just the three that are highlighted on the right. In a line chart, the time labels should always be on the X axis. The XY chart is the kind of line chart you use when your time sequences are represented by numbers (like 1920, 1930, and 1940). It’s also used if you have a progression where your X value is the same as your label and the Y value is calculated based on the X value. Excel gives you five XY chart choices, and you’re free to use all of them. As with the line chart, the time (or X) labels should always be on the X axis. Column/Bar A standard column chart is what we used to call a bar chart when I was a kid. It’s used for general comparisons and sometimes for change over time for a larger group (when using a line or XY chart would look too busy). Excel gives you seven choices for column charts, but the ones you should probably stick with are the two that are highlighted on the right.
The bar chart is really just a column chart that’s been rotated by 90°. Excel gives you six choices for bar charts, but your best bets are the two that are highlighted on the right.
The next handout talks about setting up your data and using the Chart Wizard.
G-Tips: Microsoft Excel #12: Charts – Part 1
Microsoft Excel #13: Charts – Part 2
In the last handout we looked at why to use charts and the different types of charts Excel will make for you. In this handout we’ll take a look at how to use the Chart Wizard after you’ve properly set up your data Setting Up Your Data When you’re setting up the data for your chart, order counts. What this means is that your headings, labels, or category names have to come before (above or to the left of) the numerical values. I’ve seen lots of charts that looked like garbage because the people who made them had everything backwards. The examples below show you the right and wrong ways to set up your data.
The Right Way (labels on the left)
The Wrong Way (labels on the right)
Calling the Chart Wizard Excel makes creating charts and graphs really easy by giving you the Chart Wizard to use. You call the Chart Wizard by clicking on its button on the standard toolbar. The example on the right shows the Mac version of that button. Step 1: Chart Type and Sub-Type When you call the Chart Wizard, the very first thing it asks you to do is to pick your main type (pie, line, XY, column, or bar), and then a specific sub-type from each of those groups. We talked about those in handout number 13, so I won’t go over that again here. Step 2: Chart Source Data This is where you check to make sure that Excel is interpreting your data correctly. It shows you a preview of how your chart will look and tells you whether it’s reading it in rows or in columns. If it doesn’t look quite right, then try switching from one to the other. In a line/XY chart your time or progression labels should always be on the X (bottom) axis. This means that you’ll have to double-check the whole rows/columns thing in order to get it right. Step 3: Chart Options This part of the process gives you as many as six tabs to work with at the top of the dialog box. They’re Titles, Axis, Gridlines, Legend, Data Labels, and Data Table. Which ones you see depend on what kind of chart you’re making. You obviously don’t need to worry about gridlines if you’re making a pie chart, so that tab isn’t shown.
G-Tips: Microsoft Excel #13: Charts – Part 2
Titles This is where you tell Excel the title for the whole chart, as well as the ones for the X and Y (and if you’ve picked a 3D chart, the Z) axes. Any changes you make here show up in the preview screen. Axis Unless you’re doing some pretty fancy stuff, and really know what you’re doing, you probably won’t need to bother with this one. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever used it myself. Gridlines This lets you add or remove major or minor gridlines along any of the axes of your chart. Sometimes a chart is a lot easier to read when you’ve got some major gridlines. It’s also often a lot harder to read when you’ve got too many minor ones. Legend I’m hoping that you already know that when it comes to charts the legend is the key. This option lets you decide where to put the legend, and even whether or not you really want one at all. This is important because in some cases, where the chart is clearly labeled in other ways, you don’t really need a legend. Data Labels This part lets you decide how you want to label your data, or if you even want to at all. Take a careful look at all the options here. Data Tables Again, this is something you’re not going to need unless you’re doing some pretty fancy stuff, and that I’ve never used myself. Step 4: Chart Location The three most important words in real estate are “Location, location, location,” and the same thing applies here. This screen lets you decide whether to create your chart as a little object on the current (or any other) worksheet, or to give it its own sheet that it can totally dominate. A little chart object is great for copying and pasting into a word processing document. A sheet if its own is probably what you want if you want a full-paged chart to put on a science fair board or even a webpage. Don’t worry if you pick the wrong choice at first. Excel gives you ways to fix this later on. Oops! OK, so you’ve gone through all the choices and made your chart, and now you’ve discovered that you’ve messed up in a few places. No problem. There’s no need to delete the whole thing and start over. Excel lets you do a little backtracking thanks to the right mouse button (Ctrl-Click if you’re on a one-button mouse Mac). Right-clicking on the background area (usually the white space) of your chart brings up the shortcut menu shown on the right. Use the choices here to go back and fix any mistakes you’ve made in the four steps of creation or to change your mind about what you’ve done.
Next Fine-tuning your chart.
G-Tips: Microsoft Excel #13: Charts – Part 2
Microsoft Excel #14: Charts – Part 3
Once you’ve created your chart, you might want to do a bit of fine-tuning. That’s what this handout is all about, how to format your chart to make it look its best. As with previous handouts, this one won’t show you every single thing you can change. We’ll just deal with the basics here. The rest you can look up on your own. Different Options for Different Chart Types Each chart type has different formatting options available to it. A pie chart will let you change the colors of the slices. A line/xy chart will let you change not just the color of the lines, but their thicknesses and the markers on them too. Column and bar charts will let you change the colors of the columns and bars. In addition, both line/xy and column/bar charts will let you modify the grids that are behind them. All charts will let you modify the font of any of the text being shown. A Word About Color Color is very important in a chart. It helps make distinctions between items much clearer and understandable to people. With that in mind, you should think carefully about the colors you use. If your chart represents the proportion of males to females in a group, then pink and blue are your best choices because they’re clearly understood as gender colors in our culture. If you’re showing a progression from cold to hot you might want to start out with blue (for cold) and end up with bright orange or even yellow (for hot). Remember, color is about making the chart more understandable, not about making it pretty or cool. Now let’s get to work. The Most Commonly Used Changes Chart Background (All Charts) Double-click on the background area of the chart to bring up the Format Chart Area dialog box. In the section that says Area, select the color you want or select Fill Effects for more options. Plot Background (Line/XY and Bar/Column Charts) Double-click on the plot background (not the main background) to change the color or fill effects for this part of the chart. Column, Bar, Pie Slice, or Line Color (All Charts) First click once on the item you want. This selects the entire group of items (all the bars, all the columns, or the entire pie). You can tell this by looking at the handles. Next click once again on the particular item you want. This will get rid of the handles on everything else, and just put handles on your item. Now double-click, and you’ll get the Format Data Series dialog box. This is where you can not only change the fill color (and fill effects) for that item, but also the border thickness, color, and weight. Special warning about Line/XY charts. Clicking once selects the whole line and clicking once again selects just segment of that line. So if you want to change the whole line, you should double-click on it immediately. With a Pie chart, you can also change the angle of the first slice. This could come in quite handy some time. G-Tips: Microsoft Excel #14: Charts – Part 3 Page 1
Value Axis (Line/XY and Bar/Column Only) Double-click on the Y axis (the Z axis if it’s a 3D chart), and the Format Axis dialog box shows up. Here there are tabs for changing the Patterns, Scale, Font, Number format, and Alignment of text on that axis. Of these, the most commonly used are the ones for Scale, Font, Number, and Alignment. Category Axis (Line/XY and Bar/Column Only) This is just like the option for Value Axis, but this works on the X axis. Data Labels (All Charts) Double-clicking on any of the data labels bring up the Format Data Labels dialog box. There are tabs here for Patterns, Font, Number, and Alignment. The most commonly used tabs are the ones for Font, Number, and Alignment. Feel free to play around with these tools so that you start to feel comfortable with them.
G-Tips: Microsoft Excel #14: Charts – Part 3