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

    Updated on: Jul 14th, 2015
    Data Visualization in Excel
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    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.


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