TL;DR: Excel and Google Sheets provide powerful charting capabilities that allow beginners to create engaging and informative data visualizations. By organizing your data, selecting the right chart type, formatting and customizing your charts, and leveraging advanced charting features, you can effectively communicate your data story and insights to your audience. Additionally, collaboration and sharing options in both applications enable you to work together with others and share your charts with ease.

Charts are powerful tools for visualizing data and helping your audience grasp complex information quickly and effectively. Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets, two popular spreadsheet applications, provide a wide array of charting options for users of all levels. This article will guide beginners through the fundamentals of charting in Excel and Google Sheets, offering tips, instructions, and examples to help you create informative and engaging charts.

Getting Started with Charting

Before diving into the chart creation process, it's essential to understand the basic structure of a chart. In both Excel and Google Sheets, charts consist of various components, such as the plot area, axes, data series, and legends. Familiarizing yourself with these elements will make it easier to create and customize your charts.

To create a chart in Excel or Google Sheets, follow these simple steps:

  1. Organize Your Data: Ensure that your data is well-structured and organized in a table format, with clear column headers and consistent formatting.

  2. Select Your Data: Click and drag to highlight the cells containing the data you want to include in your chart.

  3. Insert the Chart: In Excel, navigate to the "Insert" tab and choose a chart type from the "Charts" group. In Google Sheets, click on "Insert" in the menu and select "Chart." Both applications will generate a chart based on the selected data.

  4. Customize Your Chart: Use the chart editing tools to adjust titles, labels, colors, and other formatting options to make your chart visually appealing and easy to understand.

Choosing the Right Chart Type

Both Excel and Google Sheets offer a variety of chart types to suit different data visualization needs. Some common chart types include:

  • Column and Bar Charts: Ideal for comparing values across categories or displaying data changes over time.

  • Line and Area Charts: Best for illustrating trends, patterns, or changes in data over time.

  • Pie and Doughnut Charts: Suitable for showing the proportions of categories within a whole.

  • Scatter and Bubble Charts: Useful for displaying relationships between two or more variables.

When selecting a chart type, consider the nature of your data, the message you want to convey, and your audience's needs. Experiment with different chart types to find the one that best represents your data and insights.

Formatting and Customizing Your Charts

After choosing the appropriate chart type, it's time to format and customize your chart to enhance its readability and visual appeal. Some key formatting options to consider include:

  • Chart Titles and Axis Labels: Add descriptive titles and axis labels to provide context for your data and help your audience understand the information being presented.

  • Data Labels: Display data values directly on your chart to make it easier for your audience to interpret your data.

  • Legends: Include a legend to identify different data series or categories in your chart. Customize the position and appearance of your legend to ensure it is clear and unobtrusive.

  • Colors and Styles: Choose harmonious and contrasting colors for your chart elements, such as bars, lines, and data points. Both Excel and Google Sheets offer pre-built color schemes and styles to help you create visually appealing charts.

  • Gridlines and Reference Lines: Add gridlines or reference lines to your chart to help your audience gauge data values and compare data points more easily.

Excel and Google Sheets Charting Features

Both Excel and Google Sheets provide a range of advanced charting features that can help you create more sophisticated and interactive visualizations. Some notable features include:

  • Trendlines: Add trendlines to your chart to highlight patterns or trends in your data. Both Excel and Google Sheets support linear, exponential, and other types of trendlines.

  • Conditional Formatting: Apply conditional formatting to your chart elements, such as bars or data points, to emphasize specific data points or categories based on certain conditions or criteria. This can help you highlight outliers, identify patterns, or illustrate relationships within your data.

  • Dynamic Charts: Create dynamic charts that automatically update as you add or modify data in your spreadsheet. In Excel, this can be achieved using dynamic ranges, while Google Sheets allows you to use data validation and named ranges.

  • Interactive Charts: Incorporate interactive elements into your charts, such as slicers or filters, to allow your audience to explore your data and view different subsets or aspects of your data. Excel offers a variety of interactive charting options, while Google Sheets allows you to create filter views for similar functionality.

  • Chart Templates: Save your customized chart as a template in Excel, so you can easily apply the same formatting and style to future charts. In Google Sheets, you can copy and paste your customized chart or create a chart template in a separate sheet for reference.

Collaborating and Sharing Your Charts

Both Excel and Google Sheets provide collaboration features that allow you to share your charts with others, gather feedback, and work together on data visualizations.

In Excel, you can share your spreadsheet with others using OneDrive or SharePoint, enabling real-time collaboration and editing. In Google Sheets, simply click the "Share" button to invite others to view or edit your spreadsheet.

When sharing your charts, consider the following tips to ensure a smooth collaboration experience:

  • Use Comments and Notes: Add comments or notes to your chart to provide context, explanations, or instructions for your collaborators.

  • Protect Data and Formatting: In both Excel and Google Sheets, you can protect specific cells, ranges, or sheets to prevent accidental changes or preserve the integrity of your data.

  • Export and Embed: Export your chart as an image or embed it in a presentation, document, or website to share your visualization with a wider audience or include it in a report.


Understanding the fundamentals of charting in Excel and Google Sheets can help you unlock the power of data visualization and create engaging, informative charts for your audience. By choosing the right chart type, formatting and customizing your charts, and leveraging the advanced features of these spreadsheet applications, you'll be well on your way to mastering the art of charting and presenting your data in a visually compelling way.

More in Charts and Visualization

Use of this website is under the conditions of the Spreadsheet Basics Terms of Service.

All rights reserved. Contact us to discuss content use.

Text and images Copyright © Spreadsheet Basics.

Privacy is important and our policy is detailed in our Privacy Policy.

See the Cookie Information and Policy for our use of cookies and the user options available.