How to make a graph in Excel: a comprehensive guide

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 12 September 2022

Published 3 January 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Excel, a spreadsheet tool for organising data, allows you to represent data graphically for a more straightforward interpretation visually. This makes Excel an excellent tool for data analysis. Graphs help your audience understand the meaning of data and make comparisons, patterns and conclusions easily. In this article, we discuss the steps on how to make a graph in Excel, elements you can use when changing the graph, Excel best practices and when to use specific graphs.

How to make a graph in Excel

Follow these steps on how to make a graph in Excel to help you visualise your data easily:

1. Load your data into Excel

To load your data into an Excel spreadsheet, you can manually type data into it or import data from a file. While loading, sort and label the data type in every column or row. Sorting improves the efficiency of the optimisation, search and merging algorithms. You can also import data into Excel from another spreadsheet.

Related: How to write effective reports in the workplace

2. Select the range to use

To select a range, choose the cells that contain the information you may require to represent in the graph. The cells that have you highlighted may change to a grey colour. To select cells that are not next to each other, hold Ctrl and choose them.

3. Select graph type

Excel suggests a graph based on the type of data you have loaded into it. You can choose from the presented graphs or use the drop-down menu to select a different type. This option is available in the graph category's insert section. You can also customise the graphs the way you want.

Related: 15 types of graphs and charts (with examples)

4. Create your graph

After selecting your preferred graph, Excel can build a graph from the data you've chosen. The generated graph may appear in the spreadsheet's centre. Rename your graph by double-clicking the graph title text. You can also customise and rename specific columns and rows.

5. Add graph elements

You can use the design tab in the ribbon to remove or add graph elements. Adding elements may improve your graph by clarifying data or adding context to it. Consider the following elements when changing your graph:

  • Show or hide axes: Excel automatically displays horizontal and vertical axes by extracting the column and row header, which you can uncheck or keep. You can use the drop-down option to open a window with the extra format and text choices.

  • To add axis titles: The horizontal and vertical primary axis titles are unmarked because axis names may not be automatically in the graph. To type these titles, click horizontal or vertical on the graph, which brings up a text box where you may check both boxes and input your axis titles.

  • Removing or moving the graph title: You can achieve this by clicking add graph element, then graph title, from which you can choose title positioning options. You can choose to place the title over the graph or within the graph's gridlines by clicking Above graph or Centred.

  • Data labels: To add data labels, click add graph element and then data table, where there are three pre-formatted choices and an additional menu by choosing extra table options. The default option is none, which means it does not replicate the data table.

  • Error bars: You can select error bars from the add graph element menu. Many error bars options such as none, standard error and standard deviation are available.

  • Gridlines: Select from the many grid line options such as primary horizontal, primary vertical, minor horizontal and primary vertical after clicking add graph element. You can choose as many alternative grid lines as you wish to use in a single graph.

  • Legend: You can select 'Legend' from the add graph element drop-down menu, where there are five legend assignment options including none, right, left, top and bottom. The graph's style and format may determine the Legend position.

  • Lines: You can add lines to your graph by checking the option in graph types when you only compare two variables. Note that a line is not accessible for a clustered column.

  • Trend lines: Select Trendline from the add graph element drop-down menu, which shows none, linear, linear forecast, exponential and moving average. You can check the right choice for your data set since there are more Trendline options.

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Customising your graph

The following tips may help you create the graph you desire:

Adjusting layout

The quick layout is a feature on the toolbar that allows you to change the form of components in your graph. There are a few quick layout alternatives you can choose from. Hover the cursor over each one for a description before you select. The layout you choose can influence your documentation and can depend on your target audience.

Changing graph style and colour

Default settings may display the graph in Style 1, but you can alter it to any other style. To see further options, use the picture bar's arrow. To change colour, use the option in the toolbar to click the icon and select your desired colour for the graph.

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Switching row or column

To flip the axis, click the switch row or column button in the toolbar. If you have over two variables, flipping axes for each graph is not intuitive. If the graph has legends and titles, moving the row/column causes the contents to change.

Change graph type

You can change the graph type to any of Excel's inbuilt graphs. Check if the data you're using is suitable for the graph you've chosen. Save your graph in a template format or customise it the way you wish to change. You could make your graph appealing and easy to interpret by taking advantage of the formatting tools to change the size and shape, colours, fill and alignment of all elements.

To make a graph that reflects your specifications, go to the Format tab and select the shortcuts to use them. When your graph is ready, you can copy it in Excel, open a new file in the preview and save it as an image. You can ensure consistent image size and quality in Preview and set it to the best pixels/inch.

Excel graph best practices

Making clear and usable graphs in Excel is vital. Follow these best practices to help you create a decent graph in excel:

  • Make it clean. Excessive colour or text in graphs can make them difficult to read and not appealing. You can eliminate any unneeded material to make your graph concentrate on the idea you're expressing.

  • Choose an appropriate title. Think about your target group, the subject and the graph's main point when choosing a title. While it may be great to try out several options, go with the one that suits your needs.

  • Use text. Although graphs are essentially visual tools, you may almost certainly incorporate text in titles or axis labels. Try to make the text precise while yet using clear language and make sure the text is correct.

  • Use elements appropriately. Identify where to place titles, symbols, legends and other graphical elements. These elements may complement and enhance a good representation.

  • Sort the data. Before you make your graph, remove duplicates and check for flaws. The result may lead to better visualisation of the data.

When to use specific graphs in Excel

Excel has a vast graph collection to help you visually present your data. While several graph types may be appropriate for a data set, it is essential to select one that fits what you want to express with the data. Some categories of graphs are:

  • Bar graphs: Bar graphs can help to compare data or when a single variable has many categories. They're also helpful in working with negative values.

  • Histogram: A histogram is a bar graph that shows how numeric data distributes across categories. Histograms often are to depict statistics and the height may show the frequency.

  • Line graphs: A line graph is best for depicting trends over time instead of fixed data ideas. Line graphs connect data points, allowing you to observe how values were increasing or dropping.

  • Scatter plot: Scatter plots show how one variable influences another and help display changes in variables. The correlation or relationship between two variables you can view easily using this type of graph.

  • Area graphs: Area graphs can help to highlight disparities in change across various variables. Area graphs work well with data that you collected over a short period and have peaks you can interpret conveniently.

  • Surface graphs: large data sets, data sets with over two variables and data sets with categories within a single variable are all good for surface graphs. Surface graphs help to represent a collection of three-dimensional data.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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