Plot Area on Spreadsheets

Excel Charts screenshot

Ted French

The plot area in a chart or graph in spreadsheet programs such as Excel and Google Sheets refers to the area of the chart that graphically displays the data being charted. In the case of a column or bar graph, it includes the axes. It does not include the title, the grid that runs behind the graph and any key that prints at the bottom.

In a column chart or bar graph, as can be seen in the image accompanying this article, the plot area shows the vertical columns or bars with each column representing a single data series.

In a pie chart, the plot area is the colored circle in the center of the chart that is subdivided into wedges or slices. The plot area of a pie chart represents a single data series.

In addition to the series of data, the plot area also includes the chart's the horizontal X-axis and the vertical Y axis where applicable.

Plot Area and Worksheet Data

The plot area of a chart is dynamically linked to the data it represents in the accompanying worksheet.

Clicking on the chart typically outlines the linked data in the worksheet with colored borders. One effect of this linkage is that changes made to the data are also reflected in the chart, which makes it easy to keep charts up to date.

In a pie chart for example, if a number in the worksheet increases, the section of the pie chart representing that number also increases.

In the case of line graphs and column charts, additional data can be added to the chart by extending the colored borders of the linked data to include one or more additional series of data.

How to Generate a Chart in Excel

  1. Select a range of data in your Excel spreadsheet. 

  2. Click Insert in the menu bar and select Chart.

  3. From the drop-down menu, select a chart type. Although pie and bar charts are common, there are other choices. 

  4. Everything graphic element you see in the chart that is generated is part of the plot area.

Generate a chart in Google Sheets in the same way. The only difference is that Insert is located at the top of the spreadsheet window rather than on the menu bar.