3 Steps To Make Great Excel Charts

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, or even possible in Excel?

An effective chart clearly communicates the intended message to the reader.

Charts should be “SCC” – Simple, Clear & Consistent.

Simple

Strip charts of components, colors, images and other elements that aren’t central to the core message.

  • Take away background color.
  • Lighten the grid lines or take them away entirely.
  • If data labels are shown, remove the Y axis. Alternatively, enable the Y axis but only show beginning and end values.
  • Use simple fonts. They shouldn’t be too small and difficult to read.
  • Stick to 2D.

Clear

As noted by Edward Tufte, “Above all else show the data”.

Tufte’s book, ‘The Visual Display of Quantitative Information,’ explains the concept of the data-ink ratio as the amount of ink that shows information versus the total amount of ink.

Essentially, don’t waste ink on things that don’t matter. Highlight what matters, either by reducing focus on the surroundings, or focusing more on the element that should draw the readers’ attention.

Simplified charts ensure attention is driven to the data, which is what really matters.

Readers shouldn’t have to work hard to figure out the purpose of your chart. The title should be on top of each chart. Reports are read from top to bottom, and in the western world, from left to right.  The top left corner gets the most attention, but top central comes a close second.

Tell the story truthfully. Breaks in the axis – such as a gap between the values – can be misleading. Instead use consistent scaling.

To concentrate attention on a section of the graph, starting from zero sometimes might not do your story justice. In this case, add a second graph where the Y axis doesn’t start from zero. When doing this, make sure to always inform the readers.

In the case of a column chart, always start from zero.

When there are multiple series, use legends.

These work as series labels. Whenever possible, such as for line graphs, place the legends alongside the series.

If this isn’t possible, then place the legends above the title, below it, or on the right hand-side.

Boost elements. Emphasize the most important part that readers need to take away with them.

Consistent

Use the same colors throughout reports.

Actual series should always stand out and have a consistent color throughout the report.

Budget and Outlook series should be consistent too, but stand out less than Actual.

The colors that work well are different shades of grey and blue. It also depends on the logo and color scheme of your organization. If your organization has a brown logo, you might want to use a shade of Brown for Actual series. Whatever color it is, stick with it throughout the report.

That’s SCC – Simple, Clear and Consistent.

When designing a chart, make sure it’s as ‘SCC’ as it can get.

Then go beyond SCC and ensure it’s dynamic – it can be updated every month.

This online Excel course explores this further, and is especially beneficial for controllers and financial analysts looking to enhance their corporate reports.

Watch the steps in this video:

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