Day 6: How to create a graph

Visual representations of data can be the most powerful tool of a spreadsheet. Numbers can sometimes look like a bunch of text without a lot of meaning. If a picture is worth a thousand words, we’d like to think a graph is worth a million numbers!

Spreadsheets make it easy to graphically represent data. All of the major spreadsheets follow the same basic steps:

  1. Enter data into the spreadsheet.
  2. Select the data you want to graph by clicking-and-dragging your mouse from the top-most cell down to the bottom-most cell.
  3. Select Insert->Chart… from the drop-down menu.
  4. Choose the chart type. We’d strongly recommend you stick to simple line, column, bar, and scatter charts. Resist the urge to create pie charts; a bar chart is almost always a better option.

Stephen Few, author of the beautifully written Information Dashboard Design, provides a useful cheat sheet to help you select the right graph for your data.

Exercise: Make a beautiful graph

Making a graph differs enough between Google Spreadsheets and Microsoft Excel that we’ve written up an exercise for both. And it’s tricky enough that we’ve produced a video. You’re definitely getting your money’s worth today!

First, I know you eager beavers are itching for the video:

Now, select one of the following links for the spreadsheet software you prefer, and we’ll display the right instructions:

Google Spreadsheets
Microsoft Excel

Geeky Extensions

In order to more efficiently select your data, hold down the “shift” and press the arrow keys to highlight your text in blue. To automatically go to the end of your dataset, hold the “control” button (“command” for Apple lovers) in addition to the “shift” and arrow buttons when you select the data. It’s a total time saver!


  • Graphing data is easy and provides better visuals than plain-Jane numbers.
  • Choose simple graphs like line, column or scatter to present a compelling message.
  • Give your graph a good title. People judge graphs by their covers!

3 thoughts on “Day 6: How to create a graph

  1. I think when you graph your data, it gives you a better visual and allows you to really look at the data to see what it’s telling you. Just looking at numbers does not give you a true picture.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *