To create charts that clarify your data (rather than confuse you even more), you need to understand the parts of a chart and their purpose, as shown in Figure 9-1:
Data Series: The numeric data that Excel uses to create the chart X-axis: Defines the width of a chart Y-axis: Defines the height of a chart
Legend: Provides text to explain what each visual part of a chart means Chart Title: Explains the purpose of the entire chart
Each part of a typical Excel chart displays information about your data.
Charts typically use two data series to create a chart. For example, one data series may be sales made that month, while a second data series may be the names of each salesperson.
The X-axis of such a chart would list the names of each salesperson while the Y-axis would list a range of numbers that represent dollar amounts. The chart itself could display different colors that represent different products sold, and the legend would explain what each color represents (such as red measuring life insurance policies sold, green measuring auto insurance policies sold, and yellow measuring health insurance policies sold).
By glancing at the column chart in Figure 9-1, you can quickly identify
Total sales contributed by each salesperson every month
Which salesperson is selling the most (and which is selling the least)
Whether a particular salesperson is improving (or getting worse) at selling
All this data came from the spreadsheet, also shown in Figure 9-1. Looking at the numbers in this spreadsheet, trying to identify the above information is nearly impossible. However, with the aid of a chart, identifying this type of information is so simple even your boss could do it.
Although Figure 9-1 shows a column chart, Excel can create a variety of other types of charts so you can look at your data in different ways, as shown in Figure 9-2. Some of the other types of charts Excel can create include
Column chart: Displays quantities as vertical columns that "grow" upward. Useful for creating charts that compare two items, such as sales per month or sales per salesperson.
Line chart: Displays quantities as lines. Essentially shows the tops of a column chart.
Area chart: Identical to a line chart except that it shades the area underneath each line.
Bar chart: Essentially a column chart turned on its side where bars "grow" from left to right.
Pie chart: Compares multiple items in relation to a whole, such as which product sales make up a percentage of a company's overall profits.
Common types of charts that Excel can create to help you visualize your data in different ways.
Excel can create both two and three-dimensional charts. A 3-D chart can look neat, but sometimes the 3-D visual can obscure the true purpose of the chart, which is to simplify data and make it easy for you to understand in the first place.