5 simple rules for making awesome column charts - KING OF EXCEL

Monday, January 6, 2020

5 simple rules for making awesome column charts

For every column chart that is done right, there are a dozen that get messed up. That is why lets talk about 5 simple rules for making awesome column charts.
Tip: Same rules apply for bar charts too.

Rule #1: Start at zero

The first rule is simple. Always start your column charts at zero. When looking at column (or bar) charts, our mind measures height of each column and compares. So, if a column starts at some arbitrary point instead of zero, it can mess with our perception of how each column compares with other. Don’t believe me. See yourself.

Rule #2: Thou shall sort

Sort your columns in a meaningful order. For example, sort them by descending order (of column heights), alphabetical order or chronological order. This will make reading the chart easy.
Sort your chart values in a meaningful order to make it easy to read.

Rule #3: Slap a title on it

Give your chart a meaningful, clear title. Few examples of good and bad titles shown below.
Add a title and caption to your charts

Rule #4: Axis & Grid-lines vs. Labels

For most charts you can use data labels instead of axis & grid-lines. This will keep the chart clean.
If you choose to go with Axis and gridlines, then make sure they follow below guidelines.
  • Axis label text should be relatively small & dull.
  • Grid lines & axis line should be dull too.
  • Do not display too many or too little major units on axis. You can change major unit size by selecting axis and pressing CTRL+1 (or axis options pane in Excel 2013).
Try to use labels instead of axis / grid lines. This will clean up your charts a bit.

Rule #5: Too much lipstick and you have a pig

Make sure the formatting (colors, fonts, special effects, backgrounds etc.) of your chart are really subtle and meaningful. If you use too many colors, you end up with a pig. People will then focus on all these colors, fonts instead of actual data.
Always go with simple and easy formatting. Too much formatting leads to gaudy, shallow charts
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