Excel Charts and Graphs

Graphs and charts are useful visuals for displaying data. They allow you or your audience to see things like a summary, patterns, or trends at glance. Here’s how to make a chart, commonly referred to as a graph, in Microsoft Excel.

How to Create a Graph or Chart in Excel

Excel offers many types of graphs from funnel charts to bar graphs to waterfall charts. You can review recommended charts for your data selection or choose a specific type. And once you create the graph, you can customize it with all sorts of options.

Start by selecting the data you want to use for your chart. Go to the Insert tab and the Charts section of the ribbon. You can then use a suggested chart or select one yourself.

Choose a Recommended Chart

You can see which types of charts Excel suggests by clicking “Recommended Charts.”

Go to Insert, Recommended Charts

On the Recommended Charts tab in the window, you can review the suggestions on the left and see a preview on the right. If you’d like to use a chart you see, select it and click “OK.”

Recommended Charts in Excel

Choose Your Own Chart

If you would prefer to select a graph on your own, click the All Charts tab at the top of the window. You’ll see the types listed on the left. Select one to view the styles for that type of chart on the right. To use one, select it and click “OK.”

All Charts in Excel

Another way to choose the type of chart you want to use is by selecting it in the Charts section of the ribbon.

Charts section of the ribbon

There is a drop-down arrow next to each chart type for you to pick the style. For example, if you choose a column or bar chart, you can select 2-D or 3-D column or 2-D or 3-D bar.

Column and bar charts

Whichever way you go about choosing the chart you want to use, it will pop right onto your sheet after you select it.

Column chart in Excel

From there, you can customize everything from the colors and style to the elements that appear on the chart.

RELATED: How to Make a Bar Chart in Microsoft Excel

How to Customize a Graph or Chart in Excel

Just like there are various ways to select the type of chart you want to use in Excel, there are different methods for customizing it. You can use the Chart Design tab, the Format Chart sidebar, and on Windows, you can use the handy buttons on the right of the chart.

Use the Chart Design Tab

To display the Chart Design tab, select the chart. You’ll then see many tools in the ribbon for adding chart elements, changing the layout, colors, or style, choosing different data, and switching rows and columns.

Chart Design tab in Excel

If you believe a different type of graph would work better for your data, simply click “Change Chart Type” and you’ll see the same options as when you created the chart. So you can easily switch from a column chart to a combo chart, for instance.

Change Chart Type

Use the Format Chart Sidebar

For customizing the font, size, positioning, border, series, and axes, the sidebar is your go-to spot. Either double-click the chart or right-click it and pick “Format Chart Area” from the shortcut menu. To work with the different areas of your chart, go to the top of the sidebar.

RELATED: How to Lock the Position of a Chart in Excel

Click “Chart Options” and you’ll see three tabs for Fill & Line, Effects, and Size & Properties. These apply to the base of your chart.

Chart Options in the sidebar

Click the drop-down arrow next to Chart Options to select a specific part of the chart. You can choose things like Horizontal or Vertical Axis, Plot Area, or a Series of data.

Select a chart section

Click “Text Options” for any of the above Chart Options areas and the sidebar tabs change to Text Fill & Outline, Text Effects, and Textbox.

Text Options in the sidebar

For whichever area you work with, each tab has its options directly below. Simply expand to customize that particular item.

As an example, if you choose to create a Pareto chart, you can customize the Pareto line with the type, color, transparency, width, and more.

Format a Pareto line

Use the Chart Options on Windows

If you use Excel on Windows, you’ll get a bonus of three helpful buttons to the right when you select your chart. From top to bottom, you have Chart Elements, Chart Styles, and Chart Filters.

Chart Elements: Add, remove, or position elements of the chart such as the axis titles, data labels, gridlines, trendline, and legend.

Chart Elements

Chart Styles: Select a theme for your chart with different effects and backgrounds. Or choose a color scheme from colorful and monochromatic color palettes.

Chart Styles

Chart Filters: For viewing particular parts of the data in your chart, you can use filters. Check the boxes under Series or Categories and click “Apply” at the bottom to update your chart and only include your selections.

Chart Filters

Note: Chart Filters are only available for certain types of charts.

Hopefully this guide will get you off to a great start with your chart. And if you use Sheets in addition to Excel, learn how to make a graph in Google Sheets too.

Profile Photo for Sandy Writtenhouse Sandy Writtenhouse
With her B.S. in Information Technology, Sandy worked for many years in the IT industry as a Project Manager, Department Manager, and PMO Lead. She learned how technology can enrich both professional and personal lives by using the right tools. And, she has shared those suggestions and how-tos on many websites over time. With thousands of articles under her belt, Sandy strives to help others use technology to their advantage.
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