In this video tutorial, we'll walk through how to create a column chart in Excel for easy data visualization. To learn data visualization and more in Excel with hands-on training, see our Excel classes in NYC or live online

Column Charts

In this section, we'll take a look at creating a column chart.

A column chart is used to visually compare values across a few categories. In this situation, we have several products and their revenues. We want to be able to visually display this information in a column chart. 

Creating Charts

What is a bar chart? A bar chart is simply a column chart tilted on its side, so very similar. In order to create a column chart, we need to insert the chart into the spreadsheet. The reason I say that is this will remind you of where to go on the ribbon. You'll go to the insert tab and when you go to the insert tab you'll then head over to the charts group, the appropriate place to go. Then you'll see several icons to choose from.

If you're not sure which icon represents a column chart you simply hover your mouse over the icons until you see a little tooltip pop up and that will let you know whether you've selected the right icon.

Here I have the option to insert a column or bar chart. I'll click once. Actually I won't click. Here's a very important point. Before you go to select your chart icon you want to make sure that you've clicked somewhere in the data or else you won't be able to chart that data. You don't necessarily have to select all the data, just a single cell. Now, I'll go back and click on the drop-down here, and then I'll choose a 2d column chart. With one click I've created the chart.


I'll share another little tip with you. If I wanted to create a chart, there is a dedicated keyboard shortcut to instantly create a chart. That keyboard shortcut is alt f. Just using that quick keyboard shortcut I just created a column chart. If the column chart is not the type of chart that I want then I'll notice that I have a chart design tab and I can head right over to change the chart type.

Click that and then I can choose from any of the other types of charts that I might want to change that column chart into. We want to create a clustered column chart so that's what we're going to stay with. I'll click okay. Now that we have the chart we can begin to examine how we can make customizations to the chart.

In the last video we looked at line charts and we talked about quick layout change colors and chart Styles. In this situation, I want to be able to make the changes myself and not rely on layouts. The place that you'll go to access the options that you need to change the chart is the chart design tab. Then all the way over to the left add the chart element. Here you'll have lots of different elements to choose from to add to your chart. 


Let's follow the exercise and take a look at how we can begin to modify this chart. First thing I'm going to do is I want to add titles to both the horizontal axes, I’m gonna call it products, and the vertical access which is going to be annual revenue. I'll go to the chart design tab then I'll head over to the charts layout group and then I'll click the drop-down for add chart element. I want to choose access titles. 

Axis Titles

I'll start with the products. I'm going to choose primary horizontal. Here's a cool thing on the PC. As soon as you click, you can start typing. I'm just gonna type products and you'll say wait a minute it's not showing up in the chart. I'll say don't worry, just have a little faith. After you press Enter it displays right there.

Now I'm gonna do the same thing with the vertical axis. I'll click the drop-down go to access titles choose primary vertical. The text that I want in that axis title is going to be annual revenue so I'll click primary vertical and then I'll simply start typing annual. Again the text is showing up in the formula bar and it's not in the chart yet but as soon as I press ENTER it'll display there. 

At least I didn't have to write vertically sideways to put the text there. Next, I want to be able to add in an axis title you can simply go to the title that's already there. I'll click in it and then I can select the text that there and then just type over it 2017 annual revenue and then I'll click somewhere in the background of the chart and I've made those customizations. 

You can see that the products are at an angle if I want to change this so that the product categories are being displayed horizontally I just have to make the chart a little wider there we go. Now I can see all the products there. 

That's a little bit better. I'll make a couple more changes.

Data Labels

If I'm looking at our exercise we want to apply outside and data labels. These are numbers that are gonna tell me the exact amount for each of the bars. In the bar chart, I'll go to add chart element. I'll head over to data labels and currently, I'll see none is selected.

If I choose Center that's not going to work too well because I really can't see the numbers. Inside end, inside base, outside end, that's the perfect option to be able to see the text for the values as well as the bars.

If I choose any of the other options, I'd have to play around with color to come up with better contrast. The next thing I would like to do is, I would like to add a data table with legend keys. Let me show you another option you can use to add elements to your chart. If you go over to the right there's this little section here where you can choose icons that represent some of the options available in the ribbon. 

For instance, if I click the paintbrush I will have the option to choose a certain type of chart style and also the option to choose color which mirror the same options I have up in the ribbon. I can also click the plus sign and I get all the chart elements that I can choose from up in the ribbon right here. 

Legend Keys

Now I want to add a data table with legend keys. I'll click this little triangle here and then I can choose the one with legend keys. There we go I've added it to the chart.

The last thing I'd like to add is primary minor horizontal gridlines so I'm gonna go to gridlines and then I'm gonna click on this little triangle to look at my options. I want primary minor horizontal so I'll click that. What this does is it adds extra lines between the major gridlines so this adds a greater level of detail to the bars that are in the chart so I can see better gradations as it goes from 6000 to 7000 or 5,000 to 6,000. 

Those are some of the chart elements that you could add to a chart you're customizing to chart yourself and not just relying on Microsoft's chart layouts colors and chart Styles. If you scroll down we have some reference material you can review that relates to other elements you can add to your chart.

In this section, we just looked at how you can create a column chart and also how you can add different elements to the chart.

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