How to Use an Excel Timeline Template

Businessman working on spreadsheet on laptop at conference table
Thomas Barwick/Getty Images
PRODUCT DISCLOSURE $

Do you want to plot your excel data on a visually striking timeline? Follow this tutorial to learn how to download and use a selection of free timeline templates directly from Microsoft. Add a bit of pizazz to your projects with only a few clicks.

The timeline template can be used in all versions of Excel from Excel 1997 onward.

01
of 07

Downloading the Timeline Template

Screenshot of the Microsoft website with templates

A selection of timeline templates is available for free on Microsoft's website.

Once on the site, follow these instructions:

  1. Click on any timeline template that you find interesting — ensure that it says Excel next to it for compatibility.
  2. Click on the Download button on the template page.
  3. The template will now be saved to your computer in your Downloads folder by default.
02
of 07

Using the Template in Excel

Opening a template in Excel

The downloaded template is a regular Excel worksheet that has had text boxes added to it and specific formatting options applied to it. The timeline itself is created by adding borders to specific cells in the worksheet and by typing the dates in cells below the timeline.

Everything in the timeline, therefore, can be altered to suit your needs. The following sections cover the most common changes people need to make to the template.

03
of 07

Changing the Default Title

Changing the default title in an Excel template

You'll want to begin by changing the default title included with the timeline template. Follow these steps to customize your own title for the timeline.

  1. Double click on the timeline title.
  2. Drag select to highlight the existing title.
  3. Press the Delete key on the keyboard to delete the default title.
  4. Type in your own title.
04
of 07

Altering Timeline Dates

Changing dates in your Excel template timeline

The template's dates won't typically fit perfectly with the dates that you wish to use, you can go about changing them with the following steps:

  1. Double click on the date in the data chart that you want to change.
  2. Press the Delete key on the keyboard to delete the default date.
  3. Type the new date.
05
of 07

Moving Timeline Labels

Moving timeline label positions in Excel

If you aren't happy with how an event's label is positioned in your Excel document, you can change its positioning with the Position setting in the data set.

  1. Find the data that you wish to alter in your data set.
  2. In the data's row, find the Position column, and change the cell's number to something more pleasing.

A larger number in the Position cell will move the label farther away from the timeline, while a smaller number will move it closer. Additionally, a negative number will place the label underneath the timeline, while a positive number will place it above the timeline.

06
of 07

Adding Events to the Timeline

Adding new events to your template timeline

The current number of events on your timeline might be perfect, but most likely you will need to make a few adjustments. Here is how to add additional labels to your timeline:

  1. Locate the bottom-right corner of your data set.
  2. Find the small black or blue angle tool, and with your mouse, click and drag the tool down a row for every additional data label you wish to add.
  3. With a new line added, enter all necessary information such as the label's date, position, and any associated text.
07
of 07

Change Bar Settings

Change timeline bar settings in Chart Design tab

You might wish to make a few changes that stray away from the default template, including customizing your timeline bar's colors and bar caps. Follow the instructions below for further customization.

To change bar colors:

  1. Select any line on your timeline — all lines should now be highlighted.
  2. Select the Chart Design tab in the ribbon — the Format Error Bars window will open.
  3. Select the paint bucket tab, now you can adjust the line style, its color, transparency, width, and more.

To change bar caps:

  1. Select any line on your timeline — all lines should now be highlighted.
  2. Select the Chart Design tab in the ribbon — the Format Error Bars window will open.
  3. Select the column bar tab, now you can adjust the end cap locations, or disable them completely.