Microsoft Excel

Bar Charts

Many people use bar charts because they leave more room for category labels. If you have too many columns in a column chart, Excel has a hard time fitting all the column labels into the available space.

A bar chart is essentially a column chart that has been rotated 90 degrees clockwise. One distinct advantage to using a bar chart is that the category labels may be easier to read. Excel offers six bar chart subtypes. The venerable bar chart is the oldest form of data presentation. Invented sometime in the 1700s, it predated the column and pie chart.

Excel provides almost the same set of subtypes for bar charts as it does for column charts. The only difference is that there's no true three-dimensional (or layered) bar chart, although there are clustered, stacked, and 100% stacked bar charts with a three-dimensional effect. Some bar charts also use cylinder, cone, and pyramid shapes.

Line charts

Line charts are often used to plot continuous data and are useful for identifying trends. For example, plotting monthly sales as a line chart may enable you to identify sales fluctuations over time. Normally, the category axis for a line chart displays equal intervals. Excel supports seven line chart subtypes.

A line chart can use any number of data series, and you distinguish the lines by using different colors, line styles, or markers.

Quick overview:

The classic line chart, which draws a line connecting all the points in the series. The individual points aren't highlighted.

Stacked Line
In a stacked line chart, Excel displays the first series just as it would in the normal line chart, but the second line consists of the values of the first and second series added together. If you have a third series, it displays the total values of the first three series, and so on. People sometimes use stacked line charts to track things like a company's cumulative sales (across several different departments or product lines). Stacked line charts aren't as common as stacked bar and column charts.

100% Stacked Line
A 100% stacked line chart works the same as a stacked line chart in that it adds the value of each series to the values of all the preceding series. The difference is that the last series always becomes a straight line across the top, and the other lines are scaled accordingly so that they show percentages. The 100% stacked line chart is rarely useful, but if you do use it, you'll probably want to put totals in the last series.

Line with Markers, Stacked Line with Markers, and 100% Stacked Line with Markers
These subtypes are the same as the three previous line chart subtypes, except they add markers (squares, triangles, and so on) to highlight each data point in the series.

3-D Line
This option draws ordinary lines without markers but adds a little thickness to each line with a 3-D effect.