How to Make a Graph in MS Excel

By Tricia Goss

You can create donut charts, pie charts, line charts and more using Excel.
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Visual aids such as graphs can add interest to an otherwise dry presentation and accelerate comprehension of the data you wish to display. Selecting the right type of chart for your purpose is vital to creating an effective illustration. Excel provides 10 basic chart types and dozens of subtypes you can make and will even suggest several types based on the data you enter. You can further customize a graph using the available formatting and design features.

Choosing a Chart Type

Using the appropriate type of graph helps you present your data effectively, as chart types emphasize different information. For example, line and area charts show trends and changes over time; area, bar, doughnut, pie and surface charts show relationships between individual items as part of a whole; bar, column, bubble, radar and scatter charts compare values; stock charts present fluctuations; and combo charts allow you to display two data sets. Click "Recommended Charts" on the Insert tab to preview the chart types Excel recommends based on your data.

Setting Up the Data

The setup of your data depends on the type of graph you want to create. For area, bar, column, line, radar or surface charts, you should have two columns or rows containing the data. Pie and stock charts require a column or row with data and another with labels. Doughnut charts are the same as pie charts but with more than one column or row of data. For bubble or scatter charts, list "x" values in the first column, the "y" values in the second and bubble sizes in the third.

Creating a Chart

After you have decided on a chart type and set up the data on your spreadsheet, you can make the graph. Click any cell in your data set to select it, provided the data is in a continuous range; if it is not, select all cells you wish to include in the chart. Select the "Insert" tab and click "Recommended Charts" to preview chart types. Alternatively, choose the type and subtype you want to use. Click "OK" to create the graph from your data set. To move it to another sheet in the workbook, right-click the chart, select "Move Chart" and choose where you want to place the chart.

Formatting the Graph

Click the chart to select it and display the Chart Tools tab on the ribbon with Design, Layout and Format tabs available. Using the features on the Design tab, you can change the basic appearance of the graph. The Layout tab helps you to modify chart labels, axes, backgrounds and other structural elements. Use the Format tab options to customize the appearance of the chart area, labels and legend. For example, you can insert a picture behind the graph by selecting "Shape Fill" in the Shape Styles group, clicking "Picture" and choosing the picture you want to use.