How To Make A Bar Graph in Excel
(+Clustered And Stacked Bar Charts)

Written by co-founder Kasper Langmann, Microsoft Office Specialist.

A bar graph is one of the simplest visuals you can make in Excel. But it’s also one of the most useful.

While the amount of data that you can present is limited, there’s nothing clearer than a simple bar chart.

We’ll look at a few different types of bar charts, talk about when you should use each one, and walk through creating a chart.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

Let’s get started!

*This tutorial is for Excel 2019 for Windows. Got a different version? No problem, you can still follow the exact same steps.

Why use a bar chart?

Of the many charts and graphs in Excel, the bar chart is one that you should be using often. But why?

Here are three things that make bar charts a go-to chart type:

1. They’re easy to make.

When your data is straightforward, designing and customizing a bar chart is as simple as clicking a few buttons.

There aren’t many options, you don’t need to organize your data in a complicated way, and Excel is good at extracting your headings and data.

2. They’re easy to understand.

No matter your audience, they won’t have any trouble interpreting your chart. Some charts require interpretation skills, but bar charts are as simple as they come.

And that’s good for everyone.

3. They can display long category titles.

Some charts make it difficult to display categories that are more than a couple words long.

Bar charts, as we’ll see in a moment, have room for longer titles. It might not seem like much, but it can really make a difference!

4. They’re versatile.

With clustered and stacked options, bar charts can display a variety of data types.

For these reasons, bar charts are almost always a good choice.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

However, there are a few cases in which you might not want to use a bar chart. For example, if you’re trying to show proportions, a stacked bar chart will work, but a pie chart will be better.

And if you want to show change over time, a line graph will be best. (Though you can use a stacked bar chart to make a Gantt chart.)

Now, let’s take a look at how to make a bar chart in Excel.

Get your FREE exercise file

If you’d like to use the same data that we do to follow along and create your own bar charts, feel free to download our example workbook.

Just click below to get it for free!

cloud-download

BONUS: Download the Bar Chart Exercise Workbook File to go along with this post.

Formatting data for bar charts

When you’re creating a bar chart, formatting your data is easy.

For a basic bar chart, all you need is to have each category (and the corresponding value) on a different line.

You can also have them in different columns.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

Here’s a simple example:

bar-chart-data

That’s all you need.

Adding a bit more information might be useful, though:

bar-data-title

For a clustered bar chart, you can include two different types of data:

clustered-bar-data

You can also include multiple types or sets of data for stacked bar charts.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

How to make a bar chart

Once you’ve formatted your data, creating a bar chart is as simple as clicking a couple buttons.

First, highlight the data you want to put in your chart:

highlighted-bar-data

Then head to the Insert tab of the Ribbon. In the Charts section, you’ll see a variety of chart symbols. Here’s the one you need to click for a bar chart:

bar-chart-button

If you forget which button to press, hover over the buttons. Excel will tell you the different types.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

In the resulting, menu, select 2D Clustered Bar Chart:

2d-clustered-bar

Once you’ve clicked the button, your chart will appear!

It’s as simple as that.

new-chart

These same steps work for clustered and stacked bar charts, but we’ll address those a bit later.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

We previously mentioned that bar charts are great for presenting data with long labels.

A quick tweak to our category names shows how Excel handles long labels:

bar-chart-long-titles

Editing bar charts

Excel gives you the default format for every chart. But there are lots of tweaks you can make.

We can’t go over all of the edits you can make, but we’ll cover some of the most common ones.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

First, we’ll look at changing the appearance of the chart.

The easiest way to do this is to use Excel’s built-in chart styles. Click on your chart, and you’ll see them displayed in the Ribbon:

chart-styles

Mouse over each style to see a preview.

chart-styles-preview

To change the color scheme, use the Change Colors dropdown to the left of the styles:

change-chart-colors

The Quick Layout menu also gives you lots of pre-built choices. Click the button and mouse over different options to see live previews of how they’ll change your chart:

quick-layout

Customizing the information that appears in your chart is easy, too.

Click on the Add Chart Element button on the left side of the Ribbon to see a menu full of things you can add to (or remove from) your chart:

add-chart-element

To see one of these elements in action, click Data Labels > Outside End.

data-labels

Now viewers can see the exact value of each bar.

There are tons of options here, from axis labels to trend lines. If you want to add or remove anything from your chart, check here first!

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

If you selected the wrong set of data, or added more data later, you can easily include it in your chart with the Select Data button.

select-chart-data

Either type in the Chart data range box or click-and-drag to select your new data.

The chart will automatically update with a preview of your changes.

Next to the Select Data button is the Switch Row/Column button, which does exactly what it says: switches the rows and columns in your chart.

As you can see with our example, however, this might require that you make some changes:

switched-chart

Finally, we have the Move Chart button. Click this to move your chart to a different sheet in your workbook or to create a new workbook for the chart:

move-chart-options

To change colors, font styles, borders, and other aesthetic choices, open the Format tab in the Chart Tools section of the Ribbon (if you don’t see the Format tab, make sure you’ve selected your chart):

chart-format-tab

There are many other options available for editing your chart, but these should cover most situations you find yourself in.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

Clustered and stacked bar charts

We mentioned clustered and stacked bar charts previously. Now we’re going to check them out in more details.

Clustered bar charts make it easy to compare different sets of data. Let’s look again at our sample data for clustered charts:

clustered-bar-data

By highlighting this data and selecting a clustered bar chart, we get results that look a bit different from those we got before:

clustered-bar-chart

Excel pairs the two different pieces of data for each category. This makes it easier to compare the data.

You can also get this same effect with more than two types of data:

clustered-bar-chart-plus

If you find a clustered bar chart hard to read, try switching the rows and columns.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

A stacked bar chart shows the total of multiple numbers and lets viewers see how they compare.

For our example, we’ll use data that compares four different types of scores:

stacked-bar-data

After highlighting the data and selecting Stacked Bar, we get this chart:

stacked-bar-chart

This type of chart makes it easy to see how both totals and constituent parts compare.

If you select 100% Stacked Bar, Excel will compare the proportions of each part:

100-stacked-bar-chart

As you can see, this makes it easy to compare the proportions of specific categories.

Simple, but useful

Bar charts excel at presenting simple sets of data. And with Excel’s simple chart creation, you can have a bar chart in a few seconds.

If you need something a bit more complicated, you can get a clustered or stacked bar chart just as easily.

When you want to present your data visually, try a bar chart first. Simpler is better!

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto
2019-09-04T12:01:21+00:00