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Instant Excel Charts

Bps-chart-sliceIt's annual reports season again, and I know you're all as pumped as I am about sifting through all those numbers.

But how do we extract real meaning from these data? Charts can help us visualize the key similarities and differences between data points, but can also be tedious. Here are a few tips for greasing the wheels in Excel.

First, know your shortcuts. Pressing F11 will instantly insert a new tab containing Excel's best guess for what you might want a chart of, based on what cells are currently selected. Sometimes it guesses wrong, but mostly it does pretty well. For most SCLS report products, if you have cell A1 selected then Excel will typically do the right thing when you press F11. Pressing Alt-F1 has a similar effect except that Excel will embed the new chart alongside (or more likely, on top of) your source data, instead of in a new tab.

Second, know that you can change Excel's behavior for both of those keyboard shortcuts. In either case, Excel will be inserting the "default chart type". The default default is a simple column bar chart. If that's not what you want, you can easily change the default type to a line, pie or other chart type. To do that:

  1. Select any spreadsheet cell.
  2. Click the Insert tab of the Office Ribbon.
  3. Click the Other Charts button (near the middle of the Ribbon).
  4. Choose All Chart Types... at the bottom of the menu that appears.
  5. Click on the chart type that you want to be the default type.
  6. Click the Set as Default Chart button.
  7. Click Cancel (so as to not actually insert a chart).

You may find that none of the built-in Excel chart types are perfect. If you go to the trouble of manually tweaking their colors, fonts, layout, etc., you can then save that work as a Template, then make that template the default chart type. After doing that, F11 means "insert your perfect chart".


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