How to Use Charts and Graphs in Excel

Experiment with Excel charts and graphs to display your data

What to Know

  • Open an Excel file containing data. Select a range to graph.
  • Go to the Insert tab and select Chart Type or choose Recommended Charts and hover over the options to see previews.
  • Select a chart format to add to your worksheet. Use Chart Tools to make changes to the graph.

This article explains how to add a chart in Excel and includes information on the types of charts available and how each is best used. The instructions apply to Excel 2019, 2016, 2013, 2010; Excel for Microsoft 365, and Excel Online.

Add a Chart in Excel

Charts and graphs are visual representations of worksheet data. These graphics help you understand the data in a worksheet by displaying patterns and trends that are difficult to see in the data.

The best way to learn about the various charts in Excel is to try them out.

  1. Open an Excel file that contains data.

  2. Select the range you want to graph. To select a range, drag from the first cell to the last cell.

    A screenshot showing selected data that will be used to create a chart in Excel
  3. On the ribbon, go to Insert and select the desired Chart Type to see a menu of available chart formats of that type.

    A screenshot showing the different column chart formats in Excel

    If you don't know what type of chart will work best with your data, select Recommended Charts to see your data formatted in different charts and graphs.

  4. Hover over a chart in the list to see a preview of the chart in the worksheet.

    A screenshot showing a preview of a column chart in Excel
  5. Select the chart format you want to use. The chart is added to the worksheet.

    A screenshot showing Excel data formatted as a column chart
  6. To make changes to the chart, use the Chart Tools (located to the right of a selected chart) or right-click the chart to select the data, choose a different chart format, or format the gridlines and axis.

Graphs are used to illustrate trends over time, and charts illustrate patterns or contain information about frequency. Select the Excel chart or graph format that best fits your needs. Excel has many types to select from.

Compare Values With Pie Charts

Pie charts (or circle graphs) compare values and display results in percentages. The entire circle of a pie chart represents 100 percent. The circle is subdivided into slices representing data values. The size of each slice makes up part of the 100 percent it represents.

Screenshot of company profits in an Excel pie chart

Here are a few examples:

  • A company's profits for each month can be shown in a pie chart with each piece of the pie representing a month as a percentage of the year's total profits.
  • A baseball player's batting average can be shown with a pie chart because it represents the percentage of hits compared to the total number of at-bats for a season.
  • The percentage of your total daily calorie count that one cheese and bacon hamburger represents.

Show Comparisons With Column Charts

Column charts, also known as bar graphs, show comparisons between data. These charts display the differences between groups of data.

Screenshot of students with certain grades.

The values are displayed using a vertical bar or rectangle, and each column in the chart represents a different data group. For example:

  • In a school class, a bar graph shows and compares the number of students with different grades. The more students with a particular grade, the taller the bar for that grade is on the graph.
  • Use different colored columns to illustrate the calories in a cheese and bacon hamburger compared to the calories in a bowl of beet greens and the calories in a bowl of mac and cheese.

Compare Data With Bar Charts

Bar charts are column charts that have fallen over to one side. The bars or columns run horizontally along the page rather than vertically.

Screenshot of a bar chart of student grades

The axes change as well. The Y axis is the horizontal axis along the bottom of the chart, and the X axis runs vertically along the left side.

Track Changes Over Time With Line Charts

Line charts, or line graphs, show trends over time. Each line in the graph shows the change in the value of one item of data.

Similar to most other graphs, line graphs have a vertical axis and a horizontal axis. When plotting changes in data over time, time is plotted along the horizontal or X axis, and the other data is plotted as individual points along the vertical or Y axis. When individual data points are connected by lines, they show the change in the data.

Screenshot of a line charg showing veggie servings and weight

For example, use a line chart to show changes in your weight over a period of months as a result of eating only vegetables every day for lunch. Or, use a line chart to plot daily changes in specific stock prices.

Line charts are also used to plot data recorded from scientific experiments, such as how a chemical reacts to changing temperature or atmospheric pressure.

Show Trends With Scatter Plot Graphs

Scatter plot graphs show trends in data. These graphs are useful when there are a large number of data points. Like line graphs, scatter plot graphs can be used to plot data recorded from scientific experiments, such as how a chemical reacts to changing temperature or atmospheric pressure.

Screenshot of a scatter chart showing experiment results

Line graphs connect the dots or points of data to show change in data over time, while a scatter plot represents a "best fit" line. The data points are scattered about the line. The closer the data points are to the line, the stronger the correlation or effect one variable has on the other.

If the data points cluster closer to the best fit line, the scatter plot shows a positive correlation in the data. If the data points are further from the line, there is a negative correlation in the data.

Display Two Charts in One With Combo Charts

Combo charts combine two different types of charts into one display. Typically, the two charts are a line graph and a column chart. To accomplish this, Excel makes use of a third axis called the secondary Y axis, which runs along the right side of the chart.

Screenshot of production costs and units produced in combo chart

Combination charts display average monthly temperature and precipitation data together, manufacturing data such as units produced and the cost of production, or monthly sales volume and average monthly sale price.

Represent Data With Pictographs

Pictographs or pictograms are column charts that use pictures to represent data instead of columns. For example, a pictograph with hundreds of hamburger images stacked one on top of the other shows how many calories one cheese and bacon hamburger contains compared to a tiny stack of images for beet greens.

View Financial Data in Stock Market Charts

Stock Market charts show information about stocks or shares such as their opening and closing prices and the volume of shares traded during a certain period. There are different types of stock charts available in Excel. Each shows different information.

Newer versions of Excel also include Surface charts, XY Bubble (or Scatter) charts, and Radar charts.

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