Excel Visualization: A Guide to Clear Data Presentation for Beginners

I once struggled with dull data tables.

Numbers clustered in rows and columns become a blur. But with Excel visualization, you can empower your audience to make informed decisions based on the data presented. Excel charts and graphs replace chaos, revealing patterns and trends.

Convey ideas efficiently with the right visual. It’s not just about creating a chart; it’s about making data understandable and engaging.

In this article, I’ll guide you step-by-step on transforming your Excel data into insightful visuals.

Let’s get started!

Understanding the Basics of Excel Visualization

Excel provides various visualization options, whether 2D or 3D versions, standard, stacked, or 100% stacked options. It’s all about finding the right fit that best represents your data and message.

The Excel Charting Interface

Let’s start with creating a chart in Excel.

When you click on the Insert tab in Excel, you’ll see various chart types that you can use to visualize your data.

Insert Column Chart

The Excel charting interface provides a wide range of options, from line and area charts to bar and column charts. When you click on a chart, the ‘Chart Tools’ contextual tab provides additional features for customizing your charts.

Types of Data for Visualization

Excel visualization data can be broadly categorized into numerical, categorical, and time-series data.

  • Numerical data includes values that can be measured, such as sales figures or temperature readings.
  • Categorical data includes information such as names, labels, or groups.
  • Time-series data involves values measured over time, such as stock prices or website traffic.

Excel offers different chart types depending on your data type.

Selecting the Right Chart Type

Selecting the right chart type is half the battle for effective data visualization in Excel.

Pie charts are best for part-to-whole comparisons. Use line charts for time series or trends. Bar or column charts are the most suitable for categorical comparisons.

However, consider more advanced chart types for more complex data sets.

Scatter plots are excellent for correlation analysis, while histograms and box plots are ideal for distribution analysis of quantitative data.

It’s all about understanding your data and determining the best way to display it.

Steps for Visualizing Data in Excel – Creating Basic Charts

Creating basic charts in Excel is a fundamental skill for anyone looking to present data in a visual format.

Excel offers a variety of chart types, each with unique properties and use cases. The key to successful chart creation in Excel is understanding these different chart types and knowing how to present your data most effectively with them.

Organizing Your Data

Before you dive into creating Excel charts, it is crucial to organize your data correctly

Well-organized data will make the charting process easier and the resulting charts more meaningful. Ensure your data is clean, error-free, and arranged clearly and logically.

This will make it easier to select the data for your charts and create visuals that effectively communicate your data analysis results.

Pie and Donut Chart

Pie charts are popular for showing the proportion of different categories within a whole. While visually appealing, they are often misused and can lead to misleading interpretations.

Generally, they are most effective when comparing a few categories representing parts of a whole.

On the other hand, donut charts are a variation of pie charts with a hole in the middle (as the name implies!). Like pie charts, they can display multiple data series, but they should be used sparingly.

To create a pie chart in Excel:

  • Select the data you want to visualize
  • From the “Insert” tab, choose “Pie” from the chart options.
  • You can customize your chart by changing the colors, adding labels, and adjusting other settings in the “Format Chart Area” pane.

Here’s a video guide on how to create a donut chart:

Line and Area Chart

Line and area charts are handy when dealing with time-series data. These charts plot data points on a graph and connect them with a line, allowing you to see trends over time. 

Check out this video for a step-by-step guide on how to create a line chart:

One of the business essentials when working with line and area charts is customizing the axis and gridlines. This can help make your chart more readable and meaningful.

The “Format Axis” pane allows you to customize the axis labels, adjust the scale, and add gridlines.

Column and Bar Graph

Bar and column charts are Excel’s most commonly used chart types. They are excellent for comparing different categories of data.

While bar charts and column charts are often used interchangeably, there is a difference: A bar chart presents data horizontally, while a column chart presents data vertically. This distinction can influence how easily your audience interprets the chart.

You can also choose between a stacked or clustered bar and column chart layout.

In a stacked chart, data series are stacked on each other, while in a clustered chart, they are placed side by side.

To create a bar or column chart:

  • Select the data
  • Then choose either “Bar” or “Column” from the chart options in the “Insert” tab
  • Remember to format the chart and the axis labels to make the chart easier to understand

Advanced Charting Techniques

In this section, I’ll describe how to present complex data in a visually appealing and easily understandable format. Since each dataset is unique, treat these charts as ideas for meaningfully presenting your data.

Combination Charts

This type of chart combines the features of line and column charts, allowing you to present mixed data more comprehensively.

For example, when you have a target and actual data for comparison, a combination chart can be the perfect tool for visualization.

Clicking the Chart Design tab on the ribbon allows you to change the chart type and create a customized combination chart.

Combo chart example

This allows you to have your target values in columns and the actual values marked along the line, which provides a clearer visualization of your data.

Trendlines and Data Analysis

Another essential feature of Excel charts is the ability to add trendlines. These can be linear, polynomial, or moving average trendlines.

A trendline graphically displays trends in your data, and you can extend it beyond the actual data to predict future values.

Along with trendlines, interpreting R-squared values is also crucial in data analysis. This will help you understand the relationship between your dependent and independent variables, thus enhancing your analysis results.

Check out our detailed how-to post on adding trendlines to Excel charts.

Conditional Formatting in Charts

Conditional formatting is another advanced charting technique in Excel that can enhance your data visualization. You can also add data bars, color scales, and icon sets.

These features allow you to customize your charts based on certain conditions, making it easier for your audience to understand your data. Applying these formatting options enables you to create more engaging and visually appealing charts for your data presentation.

Creating a Tornado Chart in Excel

Tornado charts are particularly effective when comparing and contrasting different variables. A well-crafted tornado chart can help you visualize how changes in several factors can impact a specific outcome – for example, the impact of inflation on NPV and IRR results.

Here’s a video showing you how to create a tornado chart:

Designing a Funnel Chart in Excel

Funnel Charts in Excel are highly effective tools for monitoring sales processes or any other process that narrows down over time.

Here are two quick methods for designing funnel charts in Excel:

Building a Waffle Chart in Excel

Waffle charts, also known as square pie or waffle bar charts, are a great way to visualize individual data points compared to the whole data set. They are a fun and engaging way to present percentages or proportions.

Here is a simple method for creating waffle charts:

Data Visualization Tips – Enhancing Chart Aesthetics

The aesthetics of your Excel chart play a significant role in how effectively your data is communicated.

A visually appealing chart is easier to understand and engages your audience. Enhancing chart aesthetics involves working with various chart elements and features, such as colors, styles, and data labels.

Adding data labels, for instance, provides additional information on your chart, making it easier to interpret.

Besides, you can customize the chart’s colors and styles to match your presentation theme or company branding.

Check out this post for more information on good dashboard design principles.

Working with Chart Elements

Working with chart elements can significantly improve the readability and effectiveness of your data visualization.

Some key chart elements you can manipulate include titles, legends, and data labels.

  • Data labels provide additional context to your data and can be customized to suit your chart
  • Modify axis labels and gridlines to adjust their appearance and improve readability. Check out this video on how to add gridlines to your Excel charts:

These chart elements can enhance your aesthetic appeal and make your data easier to interpret.

Customizing Chart Colors and Styles

Spicing up your Excel charts is easier than you think.

The ‘Chart Design‘ tab in the Excel ribbon allows you to alter your charts’ aesthetics significantly.

Navigate to the ‘Chart Styles‘ section, and you’ll see various styles for your chart. 

Looking for a bit more customization? No problem! Simply click the ‘Change Colors‘ dropdown and choose a color scheme.

Changing chart style and color

You can use Excel’s preset color schemes or create a custom color palette for brand consistency. Minor visual changes can significantly affect your chart’s overall look and feel.

3D Charts and Effects

Adding a third dimension to your charts can make them pop. But be careful.

While 3D effects can add a specific wow factor, they can also lead to misinterpretations of your data if they are not used properly.

To add 3D effects to your charts, click the ‘Chart Styles‘ and choose a style with 3D effects. 

Remember, though, that 3D effects should be used sparingly and only when they can enhance the understanding of the data. Overuse of these effects can lead to cluttered, confusing charts. When it comes to 3D effects, less is often more.

Advanced Excel Graphics

Beyond the basic charts, Excel offers advanced graphics capabilities to take your data presentation to the next level.

This includes using Sparklines, shapes, and icons, among other features.


Sparklines are mini-charts within individual cells, each representing a row of data. They give a quick snapshot of trends, helping you understand your data at a glance.

Excel offers line, column, and win/loss types of Sparklines that you can add with the Quick Analysis tool.

Using Shapes and Icons

Example column chart with a star

Remember to appropriately format these shapes and icons to convey the right message and not distract from the data.

Portraying a Story Through Data

Excel visualization is not just about creating charts or diagrams; it’s about telling a story with your data. This is where the concept of data storytelling comes in.

It’s about using visualization tools to highlight key points and trends in your data, making it easier for your audience to understand and absorb.

It’s not unlike creating a plot in a novel where rows and columns of data are the characters, and the chart is the narrative arc. Every element should convey your story effectively and compellingly, from simple bar charts to intricate trend analysis.

Exporting and Sharing Your Visualizations

Once you’ve created your data visualization in Excel, it’s important to know how to share it! This involves exporting the visual representation of data in a format that others can easily access.

Whether you’re sharing a simple bar graph or a complex infographic, the export method will depend on the intended use of the chart/graphic.

This process can be as simple as saving your chart as an image or embedding Excel visuals in PowerPoint presentations and documents.

Saving Charts as Images

One of the simplest ways to share visualizations is by saving them as images.

To do this, right-click the chart and select ‘Save as Picture.’ Several image formats are available, each with its uses.

For instance, JPEG is great for photographic images, while PNG is ideal for images with transparent backgrounds. However, it’s important to consider the resolution of your image. High resolution is crucial for clear, crisp images, especially if they’re intended for print.

Embedding Excel Visuals in Presentations and Documents

Embedding them in presentations and documents is another way to share your Excel visualizations.

This can be done in two ways: linking and embedding.

  • Linking refers to connecting the original Excel file and the document where it’s inserted. Any changes made to the original file will automatically update in the document (assuming the link isn’t broken).
  • Embedding involves inserting a copy of the chart into the document. While this won’t update automatically, it ensures that the chart will always be available, regardless of the status of the original file.

Both methods have advantages and should be chosen based on your specific needs.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some common mistakes for beginners to avoid in data visualization with Excel?

Common mistakes include overcrowding the chart with too much data, using inappropriate chart types, neglecting to label axes or data points clearly, and choosing colors or styles that reduce readability.

What are the best practices for presenting Excel data visually to a non-technical audience?

Focus on simplicity and clarity.

Use straightforward chart types, avoid technical jargon, and highlight key takeaways. Ensure your charts are well-labeled, and use annotations or callouts to draw attention to important data points.

What are some resources to learn more about Excel visualization? 

For more tips and tricks, visit my YouTube channel. Alternatively, look at Chandoo’s training, where I learned many excellent dashboard design ideas.

Can Excel visualization help in career development?

Absolutely! Proficiency in Excel visualization is a valuable skill in many industries.

It’s especially relevant in fields like data science, finance, marketing, and others involving large amounts of data. Effectively communicating data through graphical representation can give you a significant advantage in your professional journey.

Leave a Comment