Plot Area on Spreadsheets

Plot areas are the segments of a chart where the data are visualized

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, 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.

Almost all spreadsheet programs use this same logic—not just Excel. And the concepts we explore in this article are applicable to every currently supported version of Excel on the market.

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, add additional data 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

Excel chart

To create a chart, and to therefore gain access to its plot area, select a range of data in your spreadsheet. From the Insert tab, select the chart type you'd like from the ribbon. Try the Recommended Charts tool for an interactive selector. When the chart is created, by default it's inserted into your worksheet.

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.