3 Comments

  1. […] have to do mental math; you should do the math for them. I visualized the year-end totals with data bars. Yes, we could’ve gotten fancy and made the expenses bars go towards the left to reflect that […]

  2. […] This example contains miniature within-cell bar charts called data bars. You can make data bars in good ol’ Excel with just a few clicks. […]

  3. […] what I learned in the course, I transformed the ugly tables into a dashboard (below). I created data bars to communicate percentage progress towards annual goals and sparklines to show trends over time. I […]

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How to Quickly Visualize Patterns with Microsoft Excel’s Data Bars

Collage of a computer monitor, laptop, calendar, people and charts..

Data bars are miniature within-cell bar charts.

I primarily use them to quickly explore patterns in my dataset.

Sometimes I decide to make an actual bar chart of the data later on. Other times, I’m simply using these tiny charts to help my brain spot the key patterns.

How to Create Data Bars in Microsoft Excel

To create Data Bars:

  1. Highlight or select the range of numbers that you want to visualize.
  2. Then, go to the Home tab’s Conditional Formatting icon.
  3. Select Data Bars.
  4. You can create gradient-filled data bars or solid-colored data bars, and you’ve got a variety of color options available. In the example below, I created blue solid-colored bars.

That’s it!

Optional Edits to Excel’s Data Bars

Notice how the bars will automatically enlarge themselves to fit the size of the cell. In the example below, watch how the bars get wider as I widen the column.

You might even change the text color — from black to white — so that the numbers show up better against the blue background.

After I insert Data Bars, I often sort the numbers from largest to smallest or smallest to largest as a second layer of behind-the-scenes exploration.

To sort your numbers, highlight the range of numbers, go to the Data tab and click the little A to Z button or Z to A button (to arrange numbers from least to greatest or greatest to least, respectively).Ann K. Emery inserting miniature within-cell bar charts -- data bars -- using Microsoft Excel's conditional formatting features

More about Ann K. Emery
Ann K. Emery is a sought-after speaker who is determined to get your data out of spreadsheets and into stakeholders’ hands. Each year, she leads more than 100 workshops, webinars, and keynotes for thousands of people around the globe. Her design consultancy also overhauls graphs, publications, and slideshows with the goal of making technical information easier to understand for non-technical audiences.

3 Comments

  1. […] have to do mental math; you should do the math for them. I visualized the year-end totals with data bars. Yes, we could’ve gotten fancy and made the expenses bars go towards the left to reflect that […]

  2. […] This example contains miniature within-cell bar charts called data bars. You can make data bars in good ol’ Excel with just a few clicks. […]

  3. […] what I learned in the course, I transformed the ugly tables into a dashboard (below). I created data bars to communicate percentage progress towards annual goals and sparklines to show trends over time. I […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

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