How to Make a Bar Graph in Excel

Bar and line graph

A bar graph (also known as a bar chart) is a graphical representation of data as horizontal bars along two axes. A bar graph is used to visualize certain types of data such as changes over time or differences in size, volume, or amount.

The bar charts are plotted horizontally with the horizontal (x) axis representing categories and the vertical (y) axis representing values for those categories.

Difference Between a Bar Graph and a Histogram

Bar Chart and Histogram (Column Chart) are both used to display data in the form of a bar diagram. As they both use bars to display data, people often confuse one for another.

  • Bar graphs are plotted horizontally while histograms are plotted vertically.
  • Column charts are used to show the frequency of numerical data whereas the Bar graph is used to compare different categories of data.
  • Histogram used for the distribution of continuous variables such as height, weight, temperature, and length, etc. while a bar chart is used for the comparison of discrete variables such as number of people in a class, number of items, types of movies, etc.

Histogram/Column Chart:

Bar Char:

How to Create a Bar Chart in Excel

A bar chart in Excel is very simple and easy to create. Let’s see how to create a bar chart in Microsoft Excel.

Add Data

Entering the data into a worksheet is the first step in creating a chart. To create a bar chart, you’ll need at least two columns of data – the independent values (in our example, the name of each book series), and the dependent values (the number of copies sold and in stock).

The dependent variables can be two or more columns, a bar is added for each variable (column).

Insert a Bar Chart in Excel

Highlight the data you want to plot in your chart and make sure to highlight the data with column headers. Then go to the Insert tab, in the Charts group on the ribbon, click the ‘Insert Column or Bar Chart’ icon to open a list of available chart types.

Hover over a chart type to read a description of the chart and get a preview of how that chart will look with your data. Choose a bar chart type from the 2-D or 3-D bar chart list.

In this example, we are choosing standard ‘2-D Clustered Bar’ chart type as shown above.

Once it’s selected, a 2-D clustered bar graph will be inserted into your worksheet and it will look similar to this:

If your data set has two or more columns of numerical values, your bar graph will contain several data series (one for each column), each shaded in a different color.

Formatting a Bar Graph in Excel

Once your bar chart is created, you can add chart elements, change the color of the bar graph, change the format of the chart, etc. There are various formatting tools in Excel to format a chart, including the Design tab, Format tab, Format pane, floating buttons, and contextual menu.

Adding Title

A bar chart will be created with the default title, ‘Chart Title’. You can change the chart title to something more descriptive. Click once on the default chart title to select it and click a second time to edit it. Delete the default text using the Backspace or Delete key and enter a new title.

Changing Chart Type

If you don’t like the newly created graph, you can easily change it to some other chart type anytime. Simply select the existing chart, right-click anywhere within the graph and select ‘Change Chart Type’ from the context menu.

Next, the Change Chart Type window will appear on the worksheet. Here you can choose any other chart type. When you are satisfied with the new chart, click ‘OK’ so that you can change your graph type.

Changing the Bar Graph Layout and Style

If you are not fully satisfied with the default layout or style of the bar graph, you can use Excel’s preset layouts and styles to further improve your chart.

Try different bar graph layouts by clicking the ‘Quick Layout button’ in the Chart Layouts group, and choose a different style in the Charts Styles group on the ‘Design’ tab.

Changing Chart Colors

To change the default color of chart bars, click the ‘Change Colors’ icon in the Chart Styles group under the ‘Design’ tab and choose one of the available color combinations. And your selection will be immediately reflected in the chart.

Alternatively, you can also click on the brush floating button on the right of the graph to choose color and style for your graph.

To change the color for each data series (bars) individually, select the data series on the chart, right-click and select the ‘Format Data Series’ option from the context menu.

A Format Data Series pane will appear on the right side of the window. Next, switch to the ‘Fill & Line’ tab (paint can icon), click on the ‘Color’ dropbox, and choose a new color from the color palette.

Swap X and Y Axes in the Chart

If you don’t like the way the rows and columns are plotted on the graph by default, you can easily switch the vertical and horizontal axes. To do this, select the chart, go to the ‘Design’ tab and click the ‘Switch Row/Column’ button on the Data group.

The Result:

Change Gridlines to Your Column Chart

Adding gridlines to your chart makes it easier to read the column values from the values listed on the Y (vertical) axis. Generally, Excel determines and adds the most appropriate gridlines type for your chart automatically. But you can change it if you’re not satisfied with the default gridlines. If you don’t have gridlines in your chart, add them to make your chart easy to read.

To change the gridlines type, click the (+) floating button next to your chart and click the arrow next to ‘Gridlines’, and then choose the desired gridlines type from the list.

or click ‘More Options’ to open the Format pane with advanced Major Gridlines options. There you can further format your gridlines.

If you’d like to remove chart gridlines, select the gridlines, right-click and select ‘Delete’ or click the (+) floating button next to your chart and uncheck ‘Gridlines’.

Adding Axis Title

You can add titles to the X-axis and Y-axis to help your users understand what the chart data is about.

To display the title only for the horizontal axis, check the ‘Horizontal’ box and for the vertical axis, check ‘Vertical’.

An axis title bar appears in your selected axis with the default title, ‘Axis Title’. Click once to select it and click again to edit it.

To format the axis title, right-click on it and select ‘Format Axis Title’ from the context menu. The Format Axis Title pane will appear with lots of formatting options. You can try different formatting options to format your axis title.

Move Your Bar Graph

To move your bar graph to a new or existing worksheet, you need to select the bar graph, then right-click on the Chart Area and select the ‘Move Chart’ option from the contextual menu or click the ‘Move Chart’ button on the ‘Design’ tab.

In the Move Chart dialog, if you choose ’New Sheet’, the bar graph will be moved to a new sheet called ‘Chart1’; if you choose ‘Object in’, you can choose to move your bar graph into an existing worksheet.

Now, you know to make bar graphs in Excel.