Bar charts: Basic how-to

A simple bar chart To make a bar chart in a spreadsheet, all you strictly need to start with is a set of numbers. Bar charts typically compare the values of two or more items, although it could be argued that the iconic goal thermometer is an example of a single-item bar chart. For most purposes, however, you need a minimum of two items that you want to compare.

An example of this would be this simple chart, where the two numbers happen to be 1 and 3. If you had 25 and 75 you’d get almost the same chart, but the scale on the left axis would be different. The same would be true for 0.1 and 0.3. If you put them in a different order, however, the taller column would be on the left.

Ready to make a simple one? The first step is to enter the numbers. They should be in a column, and they can be any numbers you want, but to get a chart that looks like this one you’ll want to use 1 and 3, or some equivalent thereof. Then highlight them. After that, the steps depend on which program you’re using. Note that what I’m referring to as bar charts actually come in two styles — vertical (column) and horizontal. Which type you use depends on a variety of factors, which I’ll discuss later. For now, since these two types are essentially the same as far as how to do them, I will only explain how to do one kind per program.

In Excel 97:

  1. Click on the “Insert” menu, then on “Chart…”. You might notice that there’s a little icon that looks like a bar chart next to the word “Chart…”, and that it’s the same as one of the icons in the toolbar under the menu labels. In the future you could also simply click on that icon in the toolbar.
  2. Click on the “Column” chart type.
  3. Click on the top left option that that appears to the right – the 2-d one with the different colors next to each other, rather than stacked.
  4. Click on “Finish”

In Excel 2007:

  1. Click on the “Insert” tab
  2. Find the group under this tab that is labeled “charts”. For me, it is the third set.
  3. Click on the icon in this group labelled “Column”. For me it is the first icon in this set.
  4. Click on the first option under “2-D Column” – the one with the dark and light columns side by side, not stacked up.

In Google Spreadsheet:

  1. Click on the “Insert” menu, then on “Charts”. You might notice that there’s a little icon that looks like a bar chart next to the word “Charts”, and that it’s the same as one of the icons in the toolbar under the menu labels. In the future you could also simply click on that icon in the toolbar.
  2. In the Chart Editor, click on “Charts”
  3. Click on “Column”.
  4. Click on the first of the two options that appear – the one with side-by-side bars, rather than stacked.
  5. Click the “insert” button. (It’s off the bottom of my laptop screen, so if you’re working on a small screen you’ll have to grab the Chart Editor window and drag it up until you see it.)

In OpenOffice Calc:

  1. Highlight the two numbers
  2. Click on the “Insert” menu, then on “Chart…” You might notice that there’s a little icon that looks like a line chart next to the word “Chart…”, and that it’s the same as one of the icons in the toolbar under the menu labels. In the future you could also simply click on that icon in the toolbar.
  3. Choose the “column” chart type, if it’s not selected by default.
  4. Choose the “Normal” sub-type, if it’s not selected by default.
  5. Click “Finish”

When you look at your result, the colors will probably be different. Every program has different default colors. In most programs you can change almost everything about your chart: size, colors, category labels, title, backgrounds, etc. I might go into more depth on this later, but in the meantime I encourage you to go ahead and experiment on your own!