My Top 5 Excel Charts and their Uses

Data visualization is a way to present your data (both qualitative and quantitative) in a graphical format. By doing this, it will help you to:

- Find relationships between your data
- Understand your data
- Determine pattern and trends
- Predict future trends &
- Of course tell meaningful and interesting stories which can aid decision making

I have been using excel since my undergraduate years at the university and it is interesting to see how much it has grown over the years and I also believe that it is still growing. For the past few months, I have been able to work on some projects that required the representation of my work in a graphical manner. At first, I wasn't sure of the exact chart type to use due to the nature of the project and the desired outcome. However, I later figured that out and I was able to produce an impressive outcome #FlipsHair. Out of curiosity, I decided to do a quick research on excel charts and that inspired this article.

First of all, there are a LOT of charts in Excel. There are some that I knew before, while there are some (maybe a lot) that I have never used before. You will be surprised when you get familiar with excel that it is a boss on its own (lol). Anyways as usual, I decided to pull out my top 5 excel charts. I will be giving a brief run down of their definitions, when to use them and short examples. Like I said earlier, excel has a lot of charts. These ones are just the ones I use often/have used before. I use excel charts generally to write reports or when i'm trying to understand a dataset (did this a lot during my postgraduate days). With no further ado, behold my top 5 excel charts (in no particular order) and their uses

1) Line Chart - This is one of the most frequently used charts and it is used to show trends over a period of time. As an example, you can use a line chart to track the sale per region of products over a year. This will be useful for merchants or organizations who have different stores in different regions or states. This will allow you, to see a pictorial view of the amount you sold your products in a year, the prices and the region involved. The graph below shows an example of this. From the graph, we can say that the fluctuation in price can be due to the difference in population in different regions. The result of a line chart can help for forecasting and budgeting for the next year.

This is a line chart showing the sales of 3 different regions over a year (Image from Excel Tactics)

A line chart has the following sub types:- Line, Stacked Line, 100% Stacked Line, Line with Markers, Stacked Line with Markers, 100% Stacked Line with Markers, 3-D Line. Tip: Always use a line chart when you want to show long trends such as changes over several months or years

2) Column Chart - This is one of the most common charts used in presentations and dashboards. It is used to compare several items in a specific range of values. For example, you can use a column chart to compare your monthly sales vs expenses. This will enable you to see if you are running your business at a gain or a loss. The graph below shows that the sales is lower than the expenses. This shows that the business is going on well (this is also dependent on the aim of the business owner). The result of a column can also be used for planning and budgeting for subsequent months.

This Column Chart shows the comparison of sales and expenses of a product within a month between January to June (Image from TechOnTheNet)

A column chart has the following sub-types:- Clustered Column, Stacked Column, 100% Stacked Column, 3-D Clustered Column, 3-D Stacked Column, 3-D 100% Stacked Column, 3-D Column.  Tip: Always use a column chart chart when the data reflects rank of values to focus on extreme values, when you have short category labels or when the chart contains negative values

3) Bar Chart - They are essentially horizontal column chart. Simply put "a column chart lying on its side". They are mostly used for ranking i.e. they are used to compare several categories of data especially when there are more than three categories. For example, a bar chart can be used to rank the top 10 cities with the highest crime rate in a particular year. This chart will allow e.g a particular city to know the percentage of their crime rate in comparison to other cities. With this data, they can plan on ways to their reduce crime rate.

Chart showing the crime rate of different cities in the USA. Image from DisplayR Blog

A Bar Chart has the following sub-types:- Clustered Bar, Stacked Bar, 100% Stacked Bar, 3-D Clustered Bar, 3-D Stacked Bar, 3-D 100% Stacked Bar. Tip: Always use a bar chart when the axis labels are too long to fit in a column chart or when you have too many data sets to display

4) Pie Chart - As the name implies, pie charts are shaped as pie. They can only display one series of data. The entire circle of a pie chart represents 100%. The circle is subdivided into slices which represents each data value. For example, a pie chart can be used to show a breakdown of gender ratio population in a class.
Pie chart showing the ratio of male vs female.  Remember: Entire circle of a pie chart represents 100%. Image from Libre Office
A Pie Chart has the following sub-types:- Pie, 3-D Pie, Pie of Pie, Bar of Pie. Tip: Pie chart is best used for one data set that is broken down into categories. When multiple data sets needs to be compared, stick to a bar or column chart

5) Scatter (XY) Chart - This chart is used to show correlations or patterns in data that are not obvious when you are just looking at the individual data point. The purpose of this chart is to observe how the values of two series compares over time or other category. Scatter Charts are helpful for Statistical or Engineering applications to see the data patterns. The x and y axes work together to represent data plots on the chart based on the intersection of x values and y values. For example, a scatter chart can be used to illustrate the correlation between employee performance and competency. The example below shows the key performance (KPI) data of 100 companies. The scatter plot was used to identify the key accounts based on performance

If you want to know more about this scatter plot and how this chart was created, check here

A Scatter chart does not have sub types like the other charts above but it has two value axes:- Horizontal (x) Value Axis &Vertical (y) Value Axis. Tip: Always use a bar chart when the axis labels are too long to fit in a column chart or when you have too many data sets to display

In conclusion, the choice of your chart boils down to the type of data sets you have available and exactly what you are trying to show (or prove) with that data. Definitely picking the right chart, will make your points clearer and present a good result.

Thank you for stopping by in my little corner. I hope you have learnt one or two things about excel  charts today. I hope to see you again...💋


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