Understanding Excel Chart Data Series, Data Points, and Data Labels

Better understand charts in Excel and Google Sheets

Meeting with pie charts and graphs
 Tom & Dee Ann McCarthy/Getty Images

Charts and graphs in Excel and Google sheets use data points, data markers, and data labels to visualize data and convey information. If you want to create more powerful charts, learn how each of these elements works and how to use them properly.

Note The information in this article applies to Excel versions 2019, 2016, 2013, 2010, Excel for Mac, and Excel Online.

Data Series and Other Chart Elements in Excel

Screenshot of Excel showing Data Points, Data Markers, and Data Labels

Data Point: A single value located in a worksheet cell that is plotted in a chart or graph.

Data Marker: A column, dot, pie slice, or other symbol in the chart that represents a data value. For example, in a line graph, each point on the line is a data marker representing a single data value located in a worksheet cell.

Data Label: Provides information about individual data markers, such as the value being graphed either as a number or as a percent. Commonly used data labels in spreadsheet programs include:

  • Numeric Values: Taken from individual data points in the worksheet.
  • Series Names: Identifies the columns or rows of chart data in the worksheet. Series names are commonly used for column charts, bar charts, and line graphs.
  • Category Names: Identifies the individual data points in a single series of data. These are commonly used for pie charts.
  • Percentage Labels: Calculated by dividing the individual fields in a series by the total value of the series. Percentage labels are commonly used for pie charts.

Data Series: A group of related data points or markers that are plotted in charts and graphs. Examples of a data series include individual lines in a line graph or columns in a column chart. When multiple data series are plotted in one chart, each data series is identified by a unique color or shading pattern.

Not all graphs include groups of related data or data series. The example picture above does not feature a data series.

In column or bar charts, if multiple columns or bars are the same color, or have the same picture (in the case of a pictograph), they comprise a single data series.

Pie charts are normally restricted to a single data series per chart. The individual slices of the pie are data markers and not a series of data.

Modify Individual Data Markers

When you want to call attention to a specific data marker, make it look different from the rest of the group. All you need to do is change the formatting of the data marker.

For example, the color of a single column in a column chart or a single point in a line graph can be changed without affecting the other points in the series. A data marker that is a different color than the rest of the group will pop out on your chart.

Change the Color of a Single Column

Screenshot of Excel showing how to change a column color
  1. Select a data series in a column chart. All columns of the same color are highlighted. Each column is surrounded by a border that includes small dots on the corners.

  2. Select the column in the chart to be modified. Only that column is highlighted.

  3. Select Format.

    When a chart is selected, the Chart Tools appears in the ribbon and contains two tabs. The Format tab and the Design tab.

  4. Select Shape Fill to open the Fill Colors menu.

  5. In the Standard Colors section, choose Blue.

This same series of steps will also change a single point in a line graph. Just select an individual dot (marker) on a line in place of a single column.

Highlight Data with an Exploding Pie Chart

Individual slices of a pie chart are usually different colors. So, emphasizing a single slice or data point needs a different approach from that used for column and line charts. Emphasis is usually added to pie charts by exploding out a single slice of pie from the rest of the chart.

Screenshot of Excel showing an exploded pie chart

Add Emphasis With a Combo Chart

Another option for emphasizing different types of information in a chart is to display two or more chart types in a single chart, such as a column chart and a line graph. This approach is used when the values being graphed vary widely, or when different types of data are being graphed.

A common example is a climatograph or climate graph, which combines precipitation and temperature data for a single location on one chart. Additionally, combination or combo charts are created by plotting one or more data series on a secondary vertical or Y axis.