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Excel for Natural Science Students: Chart Basics

Don't be afraid of Excel. It helps visualize your data in interesting and meaningful ways. Use the tutorials posted on this guide to help you do just that, visualize your data like a boss.

Chart Components

"Charts typically have two axes that are used to measure and categorize data: a vertical axis (also known as value axis or y axis), and a horizontal axis (also known as category axis or x axis)."¹



Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What's the difference between a bar chart and a histogram?

A: Bar charts are used to compare variables by category. There is white space between each bar and typically are the same width. The bars in this type of chart can be reordered, usually by alphabetizing category name or by size, and the bars represent length. 

Histograms are used to show distributions of the data, and that data are grouped into intervals. Bars are also used to plot data on this type of chart, but notice that there is no white space between each bar. That's because there is no gap between intervals. Time or percentages are examples of intervals.

Basic Chart Types

Column chart: Works with all data types


Bar chart: Like a column chart except turned on its side. 


Histogram: Used to show distributions of variables


Line chart: Use to show trends over time


Pie chart: Use to show proportions 


Area chart: Similar to a line chart except that the area under the line is filled in. 


Creating a Basic Chart

1. Type your data set into Excel using the example below. 


2. Select the range of data you want to appear on your chart.

Note: Range is a collection of two or more cells. Using the example above, the range for this data set is A1: B5. To select this range, click on cell A1 and drag it to cell B5.



3. If using a PC: On the Insert tab, in the Charts group, choose Bar, and select Clustered Bar. 


If using a Mac: Click on the Chart tab. 


4. Use the formatting options to add a chart title, a title for the x and y axes, a legend, and data labels.