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Chart Types in Microsoft Excel


 

Excel allows you to create charts in a variety of types: Bar Charts, Column Charts, Line Charts, Area Charts, Scatter Charts, Pie Charts, Stock Charts. You can define a chart type when creating your chart in Step 1 of the Chart Wizard, or on an existing chart using the technique descibed below.

Select a Chart Type

You can open the Chart Type dialog by selecting the chart or a chart series, and using the Chart Type menu command from the Chart menu:

or by right clicking on the chart or a series and choosing Chart Type from the context menu that pops up:

Note that if a single series is selected when you use the Chart Type command, only the selected series will be changed; if the entire chart is selected, every series will change.

When you select the Chart Type command, the Chart Type dialog (shown below) springs into action. The Standard Types tab of the Chart Type dialog shows a list of chart types on the left side, and several chart sub-types on the right. The Custom Types tab has a number of built-in custom types of charts, including several combination charts (these are not the only possibilities: see Roll Your Own Combination Charts elsewhere on this site). You can add your favorite custom chart types to the User-Defined list.



Column Charts

Column charts are among the most common chart types you will use (see dialog box above). The two commonly used sub-types are the Clustered Column type (top left option) and the Stacked Column type (top middle); the 100% Stacked Column type (top right) normalizes each stack so it reaches the top of the chart. I avoid the 3D styles, because I find it difficult to line the column tops up with the tick marks on the axes. Bar charts are horizontally oriented versions of column charts.

Line Charts

Line charts are also commonly used in Excel. The default Line-With-Markers is probably most common (selected in the dialog box below); other options include Stacked Line and 100% Stacked Line, and all of these are available with or without markers. Again, I avoid the 3D Line type.

The Category (X) values in a line chart are treated as equally-spaced non-numeric categories, unless a time-scale category axis is selected in Step 3-Chart Options, and points are plotted in order from left to right.

For a discussion of X axis types, see X Axis: Category vs. Value; for a comparison of Line charts and XY Scatter charts, see my article, Scatter Chart or Line Chart?, in the TechTrax web magazine.



XY Scatter Charts

The XY (Scatter) Chart is the type I use most often. In addition to the default Markers-Only style, you can select smoothed or straight line connectors, with or without markers, as shown below.In a Scatter chart, both the X and Y values are treated as continuously variable numeric values. A logarithmic X axis can only be produced in an XY chart.

For a discussion of X axis types, see X Axis: Category vs. Value; for a comparison of Line charts and XY Scatter charts, see my article, Scatter Chart or Line Chart?, in the TechTrax web magazine.



Other Chart Types

Excel offers a number of other chart types. Area charts are similar to line charts, with the areas under the lines filled in with some color pattern. You can make several versions of Pie charts, and Doughnut charts are similar, but allow multiple series, plotted concentrically. Bubble charts allow an additional value to be plotted for each point, where the diameter of the circle representing the point is sized according to the third variable. Stock charts let you plot high, low, and closing stock prices, with some options allowing opening prices and additional series, representing volume or a market index.

Cylinder, Cone, and Pyramid charts are 3D Column charts which use other shapes instead of rectangular columns. You are encouraged to experiment with these chart types outside of this tutorial, but discouraged from using them to display real data. The false third axis and the odd shapes can distort the data and distract the viewer from the point of the chart.

Combo Charts

You can mix different types on a single chart, by assigning different chart types to different series on the chart. These are Combination Charts, and Excel provides a small number of these on the Custom Types tab of the Chart Type dialog box.



You can create your own combination charts with a wider variety of combinations, by applying the Chart Type menu command to selected series in your chart, not on the chart as a whole. This gives you much more flexibility over the types and formats you can use in your charts. This is described in detail in Roll Your Own Combination Chart, elsewhere on this site.

 

 

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