Best Practices

ARKSourceLink: Tips for Making Excel Graphs

Published Apr 01, 2014 by

Microsoft Excel is a tool that’s used quite frequently in business. Often times as a business person or entrepreneur you have to use Excel to support a point you’re trying to make. Whether it be getting investors to buy into your idea or getting your manager to release more funds to a project you think will be successful, Excel can help support your points with visual aids. Most people think Excel charts are boring; they usually are pretty bland visual presentations of data. In ablog post for Hubspot, Ginny Soskey gives her 7 tips to spruce up ugly Excel graphs.

1. Pick the right graph – different graphs display different types of information. It’s important to choose the right one to be able to effectively get your point across. Bar graphs and pie graphs help you compare categories. Pie graphs usually compare parts of a whole and bar graphs can compare pretty much anything. When in doubt, often times you should just use a bar graph.

2. Sort bar graph data before designing – make sure you sort your data so that it shows what you want it to. If your bar graph is horizontal, larger values should be at the top. If your bar graph is vertical, order them from left to right. Why? That's how people read English.

3. Remove background lines – Excel charts are used to show changes within a data set over a period of time. They’re used to show trends. Background lines are used to show incremental changes in data. You want readers to focus on the key takeaways. Do that but removing these unsightly lines.

4. Remove unnecessary styling – graphs don’t need any of the template styling to get their points across. Focus on making the data look clean, the styling only mucks it up.

5. Stay away from 3D effects – 3D effects can often portray the data in way that can mislead viewers. Often times the 3D effects can cause pieces of a pie chart to look larger than the portion of the data they represent. That’s not what you want when trying to get your point across accurately.

6. Use legends strategically – if you only have one set of data, you don’t need a legend. The axis will accurately describe what’s being shown in the graph. Legends just clutter the graph space, don’t use one if you don’t need one.

7. Include branded colors – you have the ability to use your brand’s exact colors through using the color’s HEX color code. Using these colors will make your graph stylish but also uniform.

By following these 7 tips you can create Excel graphs that look good and back your points up. By using good-looking Excel graphs you can heighten your readers understanding of your information thereby heightening the chance that you get whatever it is you want from your presentation that includes the graphs. Bottom line: use good looking graphs, get what you want. Well, maybe it’s not that simple but it sure is a good place to start!

Written by Aaron Harris from Arkansas SourceLink, an affiliate of U.S. SourceLink, America's largest entrepreneur network.