Wondering how to widen the bars in your bar or column chart? Or how to move the bars or columns closer together? This tutorial is for you!
Let’s pretend you’re graphing age distributions for a given county.
You carefully formatted your histogram: you removed the border, lightened the grid lines, wrote a descriptive title and subtitle, selected custom RGB color codes, and called attention to a section of the graph with the saturated action color…
… but your chart still looks weird because the bars are so far apart. What’s with all that empty white space in between the vertical bars?!
By default, Microsoft Excel spaces the bars 150% apart from each other. If each bar is 1 centimeter wide, then the space between the bars will be 1.5 centimeters wide.
This huge space looks odd in a regular bar chart and horrible in a histogram. Histograms, in particular, are supposed to be smushed together. Our eyes are supposed to see the distribution as a seamless, unified shape rather than as a bunch of distinct bars.
How to Widen Your Chart’s Bars
Let’s reduce that spacing! There are only two steps. Follow along; it’s easy.
Step 1. Right-click on any of the colored bars. In the drop-down menu, select Format Data Series.
Step 2. Reduce the Gap Width.
Gap Width is a jargony name that simply refers to the size of the spacing or gap in between the columns. Excel’s default setting is typically around 150%.
Reduce the Gap Width from 150% to 30 to 50% for regular bar charts and from 150% to 5 to 15% for histograms.
Try various spacing options and see which one you (and your boss and viewers) like the best. There’s no absolute right answer on this; it’s aesthetic preferences.
Do aim for consistency within the same final product. For instance, you wouldn’t have a Gap Width of 5% for the histogram on the first page of your report and a Gap Width of 15% for the histogram on the second page of your report. Choose one width and make sure everyone on your team formats their graphs accordingly.
In this example, I reduced the Gap Width to 10%.
Bonus: Download the Materials for Free
Want to explore how I created this histogram? Download the spreadsheet and accompanying slides for free.