How to Graph in Excel: The Five Minute Crash Course on Creating Graphs and Charts in Excel

Excel is a wonderful tool – if you know how to use it. So many users don’t realize the scope of its capabilities. One of the handiest functions of Excel is the ability to create graphs and charts. You might be stepping back, hands-raised, shaking your head no; but really creating these visual aids is not hard at all. Once you make your first one, you’ll be making graphs for everything! Seriously, everything. Whether you need them to sort important business data, for a school project, or for personal use, there is certainly a chart for you. Let’s get started. If you want to just learn all there is to know about Excel, you can take this online Excel course.

  1. Open the MS Excel program on your computer.  Start a new blank workbook by clicking on the blank workbook option or going to File –> New.

  2. Enter the data you want to graph into the workbook. Make sure you use headings for every column and enter your data into the rows. I’m going to use an example of the most popular characters are on Criminal Minds. (Let’s assume I’ve done proper research and have appropriate numbers to represent the most popular characters by majority.) Your graphs can also contain row names if applicable. Here, you will see, I didn’t need them. Your data input will look something like this:

Note that in Excel, columns refer to the vertical entries identified by a letter, like column A or B. Column A in my example holds the character name and column B holds the percentage number.

A row is the horizontal entries identified by the numbers 1 – 9999. In my example the rows hold each individual and their corresponding number.

  1. Now that you have all of your data entered (and it may be a lot more than I have listed above – that’s fine) we are going to get to work on creating your graph. Take your cursor and highlight all of the entries that you want included in your graph. This includes row and column names if you want those to appear as well. If you do not want them on your graph, simply don’t highlight them.

  2. So you’ve highlighted the information. Go ahead and click Insert which is at the top of your screen on your tool bar. You will now see the vast selection of charts you have to choose from appear on your toolbar under the Insert tab.

  1. Select which chart may be appropriate for you. You can always change this if you don’t like the way one looks, or your needs evolve at some other time. I’m going to select the pie chart option to start.

  1. Chart options to choose from (most of these have sub-options you can select according to how you would like your chart to look):

    • Pie or doughnut. This chart allows you to see proportions of a whole. For my example of percentages adding up to 100%, this type of chart is perfect.

    • Scatter Chart (X,Y) or Bubble Chart. This chart can be used to show the relationship between set values.

    • Column Chart. This is your standard chart that compares values across a few categories.

    • Bar Chart. This chart is like the column chart on its side. It’s used when the category titles are too long for the upright chart or the chart needs to show duration.

    • Stock, Surface or Radar Charts. Choose this option to view your data in any of those formats. You can pause your pointer of select data that will show a document you select to view as a hover image.

    • Combo Chart. This is a mixed bag kind of visual representation. If you have data from a lot of different categories, or a wide range of values this is your best choice.

    • Area Chart. This chart will help you see trends and patterns over time (years, months, days).

    • Line Chart. This is the same as the area chart, but it’s drawn in lines instead of colored mountain shapes.

In Excel 2013 there are also options for the Pivot Chart which allows you to analyze complex data in a graphical summary, and there is the Recommended Chart feature. If you are unsure as to what chart might be best for you, the recommended chart feature, as it indicates, will recommend the best chart for your type of data. Learn how to use excel like a pro.

  1. Adjust the chart to your needs. You can change the color, the background, how the data is situated, where the graph is on your Excel spreadsheet, labels, etc. These options can all be found after you select your chart from the toolbar. Sometimes having all of these options can be paralyzing. Don’t over think it. Use the chart that you think will fit best. Again, you can always change it later.

  1. Editing your graph. Say you accidently switched the X and Y axis, or the column data is in the row data and vice versa. Need to do a quick data reversal? Don’t go erasing every cell individually just to have to re-type in the data. Click anywhere on your graph. Now go to your toolbar and click on Design/Format. You’ll see a button that says Switch Columns/Rows. This will literally just switch your data around and save you a ton of time. If you go to the Data tab you can also sort your data alphabetically or value, remove duplicates and group your data.

Here are a couple more examples of the charts I could choose for my type of data as per the Recommended Charts feature.

There you go! You’ve successfully created your very first chart in Excel. It was that painful, was it? There are so many more awesome tricks you can learn in Excel that will turn this program from a boring data sorter into a multi-functional everyday business tool. You may be feeling a twinge of excitement at finally mastering a task in Excel – good for you! Take it a step further with Excel for Dummies.