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Chapter 10. Charting Spreadsheet Data  > What Makes a Good Chart?

What Makes a Good Chart?

The best charts are clear, colorful, and easy to understand, giving readers the information they need and helping them grasp it quickly. Charts also add visual interest to pages of mind-numbing numbers and give readers’ eyes a break. Here are some suggestions for ensuring that your charts accomplish what you intend:

  • Choose a chart type that will be easy for your readers to understand.

    The most common chart types—the ones everybody is used to seeing—are bar, line, pie, and area charts. (It might just be me, but I always have to scratch my head and puzzle a bit over area charts, even when I know what they are supposed to portray.) The chart types available in Excel are described in detail in the section entitled “Choosing a Chart Type,” later in this chapter.

  • Make sure your chart shows something worthwhile.

    Don’t waste your audience’s time depicting data that won’t mean much to them. Use charts to highlight the important comparisons you want to make and use them sparingly to maximize their effectiveness.

  • Choose the right chart for the job.

    Resist the temptation to use bar charts to show everything—from sales results to inventory to personnel hires to vacation time. There are two problems with this blanket approach: First, there will be times when other chart types will better represent what you’re trying to show (a chart about new hires in your department as a percentage of total company hires would be best rendered as a pie chart, for example). Second, your audience members are likely to think they already know what you’re getting at (or worse, they’ll mistakenly think they’ve already seen that chart) and skip over it, missing your point entirely.

  • Create clear titles and labels for your chart.

    Don’t leave your readers guessing about what the data items represent. Use an easy-to-read font and a comfortable font size so that people who might see the chart online or in a slide presentation can make out the items without straining.

  • Test new charts with others before you finalize them.

    A quick review by friends or coworkers can reveal where your chart is hard to understand or where you need to make an aesthetic change so that readers won’t stumble on their way to your message.


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