Basic charts can go a long way. Bar and pie charts, histograms, and scatter plots are very simple to make inside of Excel.
To create a visualization in Excel, you will first need to have your data in a spreadsheet format (rows and columns). List the names of your variables in the top row. Depending on the type of data you are working with, and the type of chart you want to make, you may have numbers of columns or types of variables. However, most of the time, you will want your data to follow these guidelines:
- The first column should be strictly categorical. Examples of categorical data include things like name, gender, place, ID, genre, or essentially anything that would be written as text. There can be multiple categorical variables in your data set.
- Any columns that do not have categorical variables need to be strictly quantitative (i.e. numerical).
- For most graphs, you will need at least one categorical and one quantitative variable.
- Note: If you are trying to paste data into a spreadsheet and it is not quite working, the “Get Data” button (under the data tab) could resolve the issue.
Highlight the data that you intend to use for your chart, and click on the Insert tab. There is a whole Charts section of this tab that will allow you to choose different types of graphs (ex. bar charts, line graphs, pie charts, etc.). Play around with these graphs, and choose one that best illustrates your data.
Once the chart has been made, right-click on the chart itself to format it. You can change the color, axis range, text labels, position of the title and key, range of data included in the graph, and more. If you have any questions about how to do this, Microsoft has a visual tutorial explaining the chart features.
The images below demonstrate a chart and two types of graphs that can be generated from its data:
Above is a random data set pulled from RAWGraphs. The data is highlighted in different colors, indicating that different columns are being used for different parts of the chart: purple for categorical data, and blue for quantitative. The cells in red correspond to the key on the charts displayed below. Both of these charts are using the same data and showing the same result; one just may be easier to read than the other.
Excel charts are not a customizable as other options discussed further on. However, one very useful aspect of Excel charts is how easy they are to export. To export your chart:
- On a Mac: Right-click on the chart and select “To make an image.”
- On a PC: First, copy the chart, and then paste into Microsoft Word or PowerPoint. Make sure it pastes as a picture, using the “Ctrl” button that will pop up at the bottom right. You should then be able to right-click on the image and choose “Save as picture.”