14 Comments

  1. Chris Ganowski says:

    Thanks for posting about this. I too have never understood while Excel reverses the sort order when transposing data from a table to chart. I generally use option B that you outlined above. However, I’ve noticed that if the chart includes a y axis, and you choose this option, Excel moves the axis from the bottom of the plot area to the top. Sometimes this isn’t an issue, like when you don’t use a y axis at all, as in your example. Or sometimes having a y axis at the top of the plot area makes logical and aesthetic sense. But there are cases where keeping the y axis at the bottom of the plot area is preferred, but by reversing the category order, this isn’t possible. I wonder if this whole thing is a strange little blip, or if there some kind of method to Microsoft’s madness…

  2. Ian Watkins says:

    Chris – in the Format Axis pane, as shown above, under horizontal axis crosses, change it to ‘at maximum category’. This will move the y-axis back to the bottom.

  3. Dave Bruns says:

    Hi Ann – with categories in reverse order – Jon Peltier has a nice article on the source of this problem in Excel. The gist: Excel plots low values closest to the origin, and higher values further away. This works well for column charts, but causes bar charts to look upside down.

  4. Dawn Reinhardt-Wood says:

    Thank you! Life saver! Or, at least, hair saver! Been pulling mine out for a half hour.

  5. Kalpana says:

    Thank you so much. Saved my life and time. you are a genius

  6. Tina says:

    Thank you for this. Short and simple explanation to annoying problem. You are the best!

  7. Antonio ValleNeto says:

    None of the options solved my problem:

    My list is ordered in alpha order (label) and I want to see chart sorted by bar size.

    1. Ann K. Emery says:

      Hi Antonio, You’ll simply need to re-order the table from greatest to least or from least to greatest.

  8. Joseph Musaazi says:

    Hi Ann, thanks a lot for the post. But when you reverse the categories, the x-axis shifts on top. How do I bring it to the bottom?

    Thanks
    Joseph

    1. Ann K. Emery says:

      Hi Joseph, I don’t think there’s a way to *both* reverse the categories *and* keep the x-axis on the bottom. This might’ve been possible 5-10 years ago in earlier versions of Excel… but I just tried again, and it doesn’t seem possible.

      Your alternative approach would be: Adjust the table that’s linked to your chart. In other words, go into your table and re-sort the values, anticipating that your table is going to do a somersault once the values go into the chart. Put the values you want on the *top* of your chart at the *bottom* of your table, and so on.

  9. Jennifer says:

    Genius! I have been struggling with this for years! Such an easy to follow process, thank you!

  10. Andrea says:

    Thank you so much!

  11. Heath Wilder says:

    I need to sort categories independant of alphabet or size. eg: I have a survey with categories Strongly Agree, Agree, Neutral, Disagree, Strongly Disagree. I’m going to assume that I have to put an Rank on those answers in order to sort

    1. Ann K. Emery says:

      Hi Heath,

      Yes, you’d need to add “helper cells” with the numeric ranking before you can sort. Here’s a blog post with a couple sorting tips: https://depictdatastudio.com/how-to-sort-and-filter-your-data-in-microsoft-excel/

      For agree-disagree scales, you might also like this blog post: https://depictdatastudio.com/agree-disagree-scales/

      Thanks,
      Ann

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How to Sort Your Bar Charts

Excel spreadsheet showing data and corresponding chart where the data is upside down.

“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).

Excel spreadsheet showing data and corresponding chart.

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:

  1. Highlight your table. You can see which rows I highlighted in the screenshot below.
  2. Head to the Data tab.
  3. Click the Sort icon.
  4. 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!

Excel spreadsheet showing data and corresponding chart where the data is upside down.

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.

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:

  1. Click on the category labels on the left. You’ll see a rectangular border appear around the outside of the categories.
    To re-sort your chart, click on the category labels on the left. You'll see a rectangular border appear around the outside of the categories.
  2. Hold your mouse over the lettering, like the word apples.
  3. Right-click and select the option on very bottom of the pop-up menu called Format Axis.
    Select the option on the very bottom of the pop-up menu, which is called Format Axis.
  4. 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.Check the box that says Categories in Reverse Order to, you know, reverse the order of your chart's categories.

Your Turn

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.


Download the template

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 50 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.

14 Comments

  1. Chris Ganowski says:

    Thanks for posting about this. I too have never understood while Excel reverses the sort order when transposing data from a table to chart. I generally use option B that you outlined above. However, I’ve noticed that if the chart includes a y axis, and you choose this option, Excel moves the axis from the bottom of the plot area to the top. Sometimes this isn’t an issue, like when you don’t use a y axis at all, as in your example. Or sometimes having a y axis at the top of the plot area makes logical and aesthetic sense. But there are cases where keeping the y axis at the bottom of the plot area is preferred, but by reversing the category order, this isn’t possible. I wonder if this whole thing is a strange little blip, or if there some kind of method to Microsoft’s madness…

  2. Ian Watkins says:

    Chris – in the Format Axis pane, as shown above, under horizontal axis crosses, change it to ‘at maximum category’. This will move the y-axis back to the bottom.

  3. Dave Bruns says:

    Hi Ann – with categories in reverse order – Jon Peltier has a nice article on the source of this problem in Excel. The gist: Excel plots low values closest to the origin, and higher values further away. This works well for column charts, but causes bar charts to look upside down.

  4. Dawn Reinhardt-Wood says:

    Thank you! Life saver! Or, at least, hair saver! Been pulling mine out for a half hour.

  5. Kalpana says:

    Thank you so much. Saved my life and time. you are a genius

  6. Tina says:

    Thank you for this. Short and simple explanation to annoying problem. You are the best!

  7. Antonio ValleNeto says:

    None of the options solved my problem:

    My list is ordered in alpha order (label) and I want to see chart sorted by bar size.

    1. Ann K. Emery says:

      Hi Antonio, You’ll simply need to re-order the table from greatest to least or from least to greatest.

  8. Joseph Musaazi says:

    Hi Ann, thanks a lot for the post. But when you reverse the categories, the x-axis shifts on top. How do I bring it to the bottom?

    Thanks
    Joseph

    1. Ann K. Emery says:

      Hi Joseph, I don’t think there’s a way to *both* reverse the categories *and* keep the x-axis on the bottom. This might’ve been possible 5-10 years ago in earlier versions of Excel… but I just tried again, and it doesn’t seem possible.

      Your alternative approach would be: Adjust the table that’s linked to your chart. In other words, go into your table and re-sort the values, anticipating that your table is going to do a somersault once the values go into the chart. Put the values you want on the *top* of your chart at the *bottom* of your table, and so on.

  9. Jennifer says:

    Genius! I have been struggling with this for years! Such an easy to follow process, thank you!

  10. Andrea says:

    Thank you so much!

  11. Heath Wilder says:

    I need to sort categories independant of alphabet or size. eg: I have a survey with categories Strongly Agree, Agree, Neutral, Disagree, Strongly Disagree. I’m going to assume that I have to put an Rank on those answers in order to sort

    1. Ann K. Emery says:

      Hi Heath,

      Yes, you’d need to add “helper cells” with the numeric ranking before you can sort. Here’s a blog post with a couple sorting tips: https://depictdatastudio.com/how-to-sort-and-filter-your-data-in-microsoft-excel/

      For agree-disagree scales, you might also like this blog post: https://depictdatastudio.com/agree-disagree-scales/

      Thanks,
      Ann

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Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

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