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Advanced Excel Charts: 3 Steps you need to follow to make good charts
Summary: Are you unsure how to improve the charts and tables in your Excel reports? How to visualize your data for a clear message? Not sure what is easy, effective and possible in Excel? Learn all of this and more at your own pace with my online training.
In this lecture I provide an overview of what makes a chart effective – by effective I mean the reader is able to clearly understand the message that you are trying to communicate - Charts should be "SCC" - Simple, Clear & consistent.
Detail: Now lets have a look at each parameter for Simple, Clear & Consistent
- Strip your Chart: take away components, colors, images and anything else that does not matter
a. Take away background color
b. Lighten the grid lines or take them away entirely
c. You can remove the Y axis if you show data labels or only show beginning & end values
- Stick to simple fonts. They shouldn’t be too small and difficult to read
- Stick to 2D
As noted by Edward Tufte “Above all else show the data”. In his book the Visual Display of Quantitative information he talks about the concept of the data-ink ratio. Data-ink ratio is the amount of ink that shows the information as compared to the total amount of ink. Basically what it comes down to is don’t waste ink on things that don’t matter. Use your ink to show and highlight what matters. The way you highlight, is either you reduce the ink from the surroundings, or you increase the ink of the element you like to highlight. Simplified charts ensure your attention is driven to the data: to what matters.
- Have a title – Every chart should have a title. Your readers shouldn’t have to figure it out. The title should be on top of the Chart. Reports are read from top to bottom and in the western world from left to right. The top left corner has a great impact but up middle is also good.
- Tell the story – the truth and nothing but the truth. Don’t have breaks in the axis such as a gap between the values – i.e. have consistent scaling. Start form zero. Sometimes you want to concentrate attention to the pattern of a section of the graph and you might not do your story justice if you start from zero. In this case you can add a second graph where the y axis doesn’t start from zero. If you do start your axis other than zero, make sure you inform the readers. If you are using a column chart though, always start from zero.
-If you have more than one series you need legends. These are your series labels. Whenever you can – such as for line graphs, place the legends by the series. If you can't place it by the series, then place them either on top, below the title or on the right hand-side.
- Boost elements: do emphasize the most important part if there is a certain point you want to make and you want your readers to find it fast.
Consistent: Use the same colors throughout your reports. Actual series should always stand out and have a consistent color throughout the report. Keep consistent colors for Budget and Outlook series. The colors that work well are different shades of grey & blue. It also depends on the logo and color mix of your organization. If your organization has a brown logo, you might want to use a shade of Brown for Actual series, if it is blue, then blue might work better. Whatever color you choose, you should stick with it throughout your report.
That’s SCC - Simple, Clear & consistent. Every time you design a chart, make sure it’s as SCC as it can get. Then go beyond SCC and ensure it is as dynamic as it can get. If you have a chart that you need to update every month by dragging or updating the input range then implement the techniques that I will show you in the online excel training.
This is specially beneficial for controllers and financial analysts looking to enhance their corporate reports to include better & improved charts.
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