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Creating a Quick Chart

Chart Wizard takes you through the step-by-step process of building and customizing a chart.

Parts of a Basic Chart Gridlines help to follow data from the right side to the Value axis Data series-- group of related data points
Y axis-- Value axis (range of values represented by the numeric data) X axis-- Category axis (how the data is broken down in the chart)
Data point-- plotted contents of one of the cells in the chart.  Groups of data points make a data series. Chart and axis titles can contain extra information to help the viewer interpret the chart Legend-- used to help viewer associate the colored lines, bars, slides to specific categories

The Chart Wizard can be reached on the Toolbar or by choosing Insert, Chart.  

TIP:  Choose the range of cells you want to be in the chart first before you invoke the wizard.

Chart Wizard Steps

  • Type of chart.  You must pick a chart type and you can pick a chart sub-type.  Pick one and press Preview button to see how your data will look with that chart type.
  • Keep in mind how much data you must chart and how the chart will be viewed.  If you are showing more than one data series you can't use a pie chart.  Pie charts show parts to the whole.  If you have several categories of data you have to use a different type.  As far as how it is viewed, charts for presentations (overhead or computer) need to be simple.  Printed charts can be more complex because the viewer will have more time to view and study the chart.
  • If you highlighted the data range first, the next step is already done.  All you have to do is confirm your previously selected range.  Remember in you range include only the columns and rows that you want to see plotted.  Don't include the spreadsheet title or any other extra text that you don't want to appear in your chart.
  • Now in the next step you can select and format the extra elements such as the title, legend, gridlines.  To view or edit click the tabs and make the changes.  
    • Axes--choose whether to display your Value or Category axis.  Choosing not to display an axis removes the text or numbers that define the data points along the axis.
    • Gridlines--turn off or on.  Gridlines enable the reader to visually follow the data points back to the axis where the values can be determined.  Don't show gridlines in both directions.  Gridlines to the Value (Y) axis are important.  Gridlines to both axis can be distracting.
    • Legend--Can turn off and on.  Sometimes you display the same information and don't need the legend also.  Only display the legend if it will provide information (association of color) that is not easily discerned by the viewer.  You can also choose the location of the legend.
    • Data Labels--you can display the labels on the axis by choosing Show Value.  Be careful, adding the labels may make your chart too busy.
    • Data Table--you can display the data table by clicking Show Data Table.  Additional choice, Show Legend Key lets you show you legend information in the table.

TIP:  To have data constantly updated when you move (paste) your chart into other application be sure to use Paste Link (Edit, Paste Special).  This causes the application in which you paste to check with Excel for any changes each time it opens the file.

The Final step is the choose the output location--As New Sheet or As Object In current active worksheet.  Based on the size requirements of your chart, make this selection then choose Finish and your chart is created.  Placing a chart on it's own sheet makes it easier to find and resize.  

Formatting an Existing Chart

So you have created your chart and finished the Chart Wizard and "Oh, No!"  a mistake.  So if you want to make changes you must first click on the chart to activate it.  It is best to click in the white area outside of the chart and its titles but within the frame.  A click in parts of the chart will activate that part of the chart and not the whole.  You know it is active when you see the small black handles on the edge of the chart.  Also when you Chart is active the Chart menu appears on the Menu Bar.  If you wish to delete the whole chart simply activate it and press the Delete key.

Changing Colors

You can change the colors of any data series or apply a colored background to your chart or to the Chart Area (the box in which the chart sits).

  • With the chart active, click on the element you want to re-color.
  • Choose Format, Selected Item (where Item is the name of the selected element).
  • Click Fill Color icon on the Formatting Toolbar and Choose a color from the palette or Choose Format, Format Item (where Item is the name of the selected element).  Click the patterns tab to see the color palette.  Choose a color and click OK.

TIP:  You can right-click an element to reformat it.

Chart Legibility

The point of creating a chart is to make information easier to understand.  If the chart is too small, not easily read, or not legible you are defeating the purpose of the exercise.

  • Too many colors can be confusing.  Color choice can make it easier to read.  Match color to background (contrast is better).  
  • Colors that are too similar can also be a problem.  If you use navy and black the viewer may not be able to tell them colors apart and thus not see the chart elements.
  • Too much text.  Don't let labels overlap.  Dark backgrounds and dark text don't mix.  Change one of them.
  • Too many gridlines.  Gridlines are important but too much of a good thing is confusing.  Gridlines to the Value (Y) axis are key (called major gridlines) but not to the Category (X) axis (called minor gridlines).  Unless your chart is really large, don't use the minor gridlines.

Resizing the Chart

You can only resize a chart that is an object within a worksheet.  Charts on their own sheet are automatically sized by Excel to fit one printed page.  To resize a chart

  • Click the outer edge to get the handles.
  • Point to a handle, your mouse becomes a two-headed arrow.
  • Drag outward to increase the size, inward to decrease.
  • Release mouse button when chart is desired size.

TIP:  Use a corner handle to retain the chart's current horizontal and vertical proportions (aspect ratio).

Reformatting Chart Text

To make changes to chart text

  • With chart active, click on the element you want to reformat.
  • Use the Font Size button on the formatting toolbar.  Click the drop-down arrow to choose a different font size.
  • Change the font by clicking the Font button also on the toolbar.
  • You also can change the font and size by right-clicking the element you want to reformat and choosing Format Item (where Item is the name of the selected element).


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This page was updated on:  04/10/02