Learn the Difference Between Various Chart Types

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Exploring chart types

Excel has over 50 different chart types, so it's not always clear which chart is best for the kind of data you're trying to show. We're using the sheet called Chart Types, let's select the data over in columns A and B and simply press Alt+F1, a quick way to create a chart. This gives us a Column Chart. Is this the best way to display this data? When you create a chart, recognize that the Chart Tools ribbon is activated, and we've got a Design tab and a Format tab at the top of the screen.

Off to the right we see a choice called Change Chart Type. We can easily get a preview here of what this chart might look like, if for example it were a Bar Chart. Click here, we see some examples of that, we can slide over it, would this be better as a Pie Chart or how about a Line Chart? We can get a quick preview here and decide what looks best. If our starting data is multi- dimensional, like the data in column D, we get more choices here and more previews, so let's escape from this option. Recognize that this might be the best chart for the data we're seeing over in columns A and B. Let's move this down below for the moment we might come back to it later.

Let's select this data here. Once again, press Alt+F1 for a quick chart selection. When you're creating charts, consider this possibility. Sometimes, the data looks better in separate columns as it is here, and when you're working with Column Charts, those are the vertical ones like what we see here or Bar Charts, the horizontal variation of these, clustering is the first choice, this may or may not be your best choice. If we change the chart type, we might change this to a Clustered Column.

The advantage here is it simplifies the look of the chart, but on the other hand, if you're trying to read for example, the southeast entries, those are the green portions of the columns, you can't follow them from month-to-month so easily. You have got some other options out here as well that you might explore. Sometimes, you'll see a 3D Stacked Column, and as we move to the right, different variations on that, and then another variation like this. This might have some visual appeal, but it might be kind of hard to read too; but we certainly have easy access to the different chart types.

If you only use charting occasionally, I think the best approach is to stick with perhaps only four major types here: Column, Line, Pie, and Bar. Pie is, by the way, somewhat specialized as we'll see. So, let's say Column and Bar are certainly common choices. You've seen these in magazines, newspapers, television, they're commonly used. Now, with certain kinds of data, if you're trying to emphasize volume, perhaps Columns and Bars are the best, but again, sometimes it's just a judgment call.

Let's escape from here and move this over a bit, and consider the data in columns K through P. In this data here, we've got the same kinds of choices. Let's not include the totals, just the data here, and possibly getting a preview this time by way of the Insert Tab-- Recommended Charts--what are some of the examples that we might want to consider here? We can move the Title bar, the dialogue box, over to get a sense. If we're trying to show a trend, there's probably no better chart type than a Line Chart. And these are universally recognized because our eye tends to follow the lines from left to right; nothing wrong with a Column Chart here.

There's another kind of chart here called a Stacked Area Chart. Maybe that displays the trend pretty well. We can certainly see a trend emerging here, at least in terms of the totals. But if it's a Line Chart, looks pretty good here, let's go with that option; and we can move these around too. Now, recognize that when you do choose Chart Types too, there's an option here that is not very obvious, and sometimes it brings us an interesting alternative, but with a Line Chart, we'll see how well this works. Switch Row/Column, not an obvious choice to make.

I think in this case, it's a horrible choice, click it again. If you've got data that deals with times--for example Months here, or Years, or even Hours in some cases-- Line Charts tend to work best there. Now, again, that option that we have here on the Design Tab of Switching Row/Column, I think in this case is not a good one, but with the other data here let's scroll here to move the chart over. Move this chart all the way temporarily. The chart to the right is depicting our data right here.

Let's select this chart and then Switch Row/Column. Now, here's an interesting variation. This shows columns differently. Each cluster of columns here is about a region. Earlier, it was about a product. Let's go back and switch that again--Switch Row Column. I use this feature all the time, not because I'm always looking for a better chart necessarily, but the difference in the two--and we can bounce back and forth if we wish--sometimes is interesting and sometimes we end up saying, "let's have both of these".

So one possibility might be, we could just shrink this a bit, move it over here, and make a copy of it or create a brand new chart, either way. How can we make a copy of a chart? We can simply drag a chart with the Ctrl key held down, let go of the mouse, we made a copy of the chart. Let's change this chart here. On the Design Tab, we'll Switch Row/Column. Let's say for the moment, we'll put them side by side, but now we can see the two charts together. What we're saying here is it's not always the case that you want to see both charts, but recognize that we have this quick ability, by using Switch Row/Column, here to get different kinds of charts.

One or the other might be better. We'll choose just one, fine, or maybe both. As we work with different kinds of data, that's an option you want to explore. Now, if you do want to try a Pie Chart--it makes sense sometimes-- usually, they work best if you have only a single column or row of data. A strange thing will happen if, for example, we take this data here and try and create a Pie Chart. Insert Tab, here are the Pie choices, right here, click here. How about a 3-D Pie? It sounds good. That looks pretty good in the background there, let's keep it.

But it's got the title NE on it. So what did it do? It really only used this first column, even though this data was highlighted. So there are some serious shortcomings in terms of the amount of data that can be displayed in a Pie Chart. Recognize this oddity too, what if one of these numbers was negative? I'm going to make this to be -100. Watch the Pie Chart. Obviously, the wedge changed, but as you slide over the wedge--as I'm doing right here--it's displaying this as if it were a positive number. And the more you think about it, it would sound kind of strange to say we've got a negative piece of pie, but oddly enough, if you have got negative data, it's just a terrible candidate; it doesn't even fit here.

I'm surprised that Excel even allows us to create a chart, where we have got a negative entry here. So, I'm going to press Ctrl+Z to undo that, but be careful with that idea. If you're using a Pie Chart, it's got to be all positive data to make any sense. You can only really do this with a single row or a single column of data. The column AB combination does make good sense. If we want to get a breakout here of how these various locations for our sales are occurring-if we want to get a breakout here of the items in a Pie Chart-- simply select this data--Insert>Pie-- there's our 3-D Pie; and that's a good visual depiction of how our sales have broken out.

You can also, eventually, add percentages and other tools here as well. So in this move, we've seen a variety of different chart types. If you only use the feature occasionally, I strongly recommend sticking with Column, Bar, Line, and Pie. These are the most widely used charts, and the best charts for depicting data most of the time.

Exploring chart types
Video duration: 7m 47s 6h 32m Appropriate for all


Exploring chart types provides you with in-depth training on Business. Taught by Dennis Taylor as part of the Excel 2013 Essential Training

Business Education + Elearning
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