“Ann, my bar chart is upside down! Help!”
You read my prior post about using horizontal bar charts for nominal variables like favorite fruits.
My toddler is eating two! bananas a day so bananas are the winner in this fictional fruit contest.
Our original table is ordered alphabetically and that just won’t do.
Our viewers will either want to know about the favorite fruit (a greatest to least ordering) or they’ll want to know about the least favorite fruit (a least to greatest ordering).
How to Re-Sort Your Bar Charts in Microsoft Excel
You’ve got two options for re-sorting your bar chart.
Option A: Re-Sort the Table
Option A is to re-sort your table.
If you’re not working in spreadsheets all the time, you may not have discovered sorting and filtering features before.
Here’s how you can sort data tables in Microsoft Excel:
- Highlight your table. You can see which rows I highlighted in the screenshot below.
- Head to the Data tab.
- Click the Sort icon.
- You can sort either column. To arrange your bar chart from greatest to least, you sort the # of votes column from largest to smallest.
Well, that would be the logical approach. A largest to smallest sorting should produce a largest to smallest chart, right? Right? Right? But the chart does a somersault!
Here’s where Option A comes in. You anticipate that your chart is going to do a somersault and sort your table the opposite of what you want to appear in your chart.
Option B: Re-Sort the Bars within the Chart
Option B, my preferred method, is to leave your table alone.
I like my tables to match my charts–largest to smallest tables with largest to smallest graphs. It keeps me organized so that I don’t have to do mental somersaults every time I look at my screen.
Here’s how you can re-sort the bars within your Microsoft Excel charts:
- Click on the category labels on the left. You’ll see a rectangular border appear around the outside of the categories.
- Hold your mouse over the lettering, like the word apples.
- Right-click and select the option on very bottom of the pop-up menu called Format Axis.
- Then, on the Format Axis window, check the box for Categories in Reverse Order. That’s a jargony name with a straightforward purpose. It just re-sorts your bar chart in the opposite order of your table.
Comment and let me know: Which method do you prefer, and why? Do you prefer Option A, in which you anticipate that the table will do a somersault, and you sort the table upside down? Or do you prefer Option B, in which you use the Categories in Reverse Order button to sort the bar chart itself?
Bonus: Download the Spreadsheet
Want to practice sorting your table and/or sorting the bar chart? Download the spreadsheet I used in this blog post.