Choosing a Chart

Read this section, which details each major chart type and reviews how to create them. Review the examples to see when it is appropriate to use each type of chart.


This section reviews the most commonly used Excel chart types. To demonstrate the variety of chart types available in Excel, it is necessary to use a variety of data sets. Therefore, instead of addressing a specific theme, we will use a variety of themes. This is necessary not only to demonstrate the construction of charts but also to explain how to choose the right type of chart given your data and the idea you intend to communicate.

Before we begin, let's review a few key points you need to consider before creating any chart in Excel. The first is identifying your idea or message. It is important to keep in mind that the primary purpose of a chart is to present quantitative information to an audience. Therefore, you must first decide what message or idea you wish to present. This is critical in helping you select specific data from a worksheet that will be used in a chart. Throughout this chapter, we will reinforce the intended message first before creating each chart.

The second key point is selecting the right chart type. The chart type you select will depend on the data you have and the message you intend to communicate.

The third key point is identifying the values that should appear on the X-and Y-axes. One of the ways to identify which values belong on the X- and Y-axes is to sketch the chart on paper first. If you can visualize what your chart is supposed to look like, you will have an easier time using Excel to construct an effective chart that accurately communicates your message. Table 1 Key Steps before Constructing an Excel Chart provides a brief summary of these points.

Integrity Check

Carefully Select Data When Creating a Chart

Just because you have data in a worksheet does not mean it must all be placed onto a chart. When creating a chart, it is common for only specific data points to be used. To determine what data should be used when creating a chart, you must first identify the message or idea that you want to communicate to an audience.

Step Description
1. Define your message. Identify the main idea you are trying to communicate to an audience. If there is no main point or important message that can be revealed by a chart, you might want to question the necessity of creating a chart.
2. Identify the data you need. Once you have a clear message, identify the data on a worksheet that you will need to construct a chart. In some cases, you may need to create formulas or consolidate items into broader categories.
3. Select a chart type. The type of chart you select will depend on the message you are communicating and the data you are using.
4. Identify the values for the X and Y axes. After you have selected a chart type, you may find that drawing a sketch is helpful in identifying which values should be on the X- and Y-axes. (The X-axis is horizontal, and the Y-axis is vertical.)

Table 1 Key Steps before Constructing an Excel Chart

Creative Commons License This text was adapted by Saylor Academy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 License without attribution as requested by the work's original creator or licensor.