Learning how to make a graph in Excel is relatively easy. However, when used properly, Excel graphs (or charts) can be a key contributor to the success (or failure) of your analysis or presentation. An Excel graph should complement your data and invite comparisons where possible. They can also be used to quickly summarize and display complicated data and demonstrate relationships between data. The following three tips will enable you to craft Excel graphs that are both useful and visually appealing.
1. Use Colors to Make it Look Good (But Not Awful)
When creating an Excel graph, most people fall into one of two camps. Either they simply throw a simple graph onto the page with the default settings:
Or they go to the other extreme and change all of the settings (burning your eyes in the process):
The best looking graphs usually fall somewhere in the middle:
A good rule of thumb is to not change more than 3-4 of the formatting settings. Simply pick a few settings that will help make your data “pop”. The key is in moderation. If you follow this rule, your graphs will serve to strengthen your analysis (or presentation) and not distract from it.
2. Use Different Chart Types on the Same Graph
An easy way to invite meaningful comparisons in your Excel graphs is to use two different chart types within the same graph, as in the example below:
This allows you to take two different sets of data and overlay them so that you can quickly demonstrate causal relationships (in this case, the relationship between the number of homework assignments returned and test scores). This is also a good way to save space if you find yourself running out of paper (or screen). However, you’ll only want to do this with chart types that will make sense. You wouldn’t want to try to overlay a pie chart on the above graph, for example. When done properly, using different chart types within the same graph allows your viewers to quickly see both the separate data series within your graph and the relationships between them.
3. Use the Secondary Axis Feature
One of the most under-taught aspects of charts is how to make a graph in Excel plotted against more than one y-axis. If you know how to make a graph in Excel using both the primary and secondary axis and you also know how to use different chart types within the same graph (Tip #2), you will be able to create very readable and very informative graphs, as in the example below.
The advantage of the secondary axis is that it allows you to plot your different data series against two different numerical scales (one on the left and one on the right). In the example above, test scores are plotted against the left-hand axis and their numbers range from 0-120. However, the Assignments Returned data series is plotted against the right-hand axis and ranges from 0-12. This graph actually contains the same data as the graph in Tip #2, however it is easier to see how the number of assignments returned affects test scores because this chart uses the secondary axis.
Learn How to Make a Graph in Excel Using Our Tips
Excel offers many different options to customize your graphs. However, if you use our three tips above, you will produce graphs that both interesting and visually appealing.
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