5 Great Excel Chart Tutorials

For data presentation, it’s the best of times and the worst of times. The best of times because you have more information, more insight, more data to present. The worst of times because sometimes those standard bar and line charts just don’t cut it. Don’t despair though, there are smart Excel wizards out there who have made simple tutorials for you. Here are five chart types with the tutorials to improve your Excel chops. These tutorials are from data visualization and Excel experts. Experts such as Stephanie Evergreen, my partner in crime in our Presenting Data workshops. As well as Chandoo, Jon Peltier, and Excel Easy.


Dot Plots.

You can’t just click on a button to make dot plots in Excel. That’s a shame, since they are a useful chart type to compare one or two sets of values. According to Cleveland and McGill [1], humans are good at comparing values on a common axis. Thus the dot plot was born. Stephanie Evergreen has a good tutorial on how to make dot plots in Excel.

Dot plots chart

Image source: Evergreen Data.


Bullet Charts.

The bullet chart or bullet graph is another useful chart type. Stephen Few invented the bullet chart as a cleaner alternative to gauges and thermometers that tend to  hideously decorate some dashboards. Again, in Excel it requires more than a few clicks to produce. Stephanie also has a great tutorial on how to make a bullet chart in Excel.

Bullet charts

Image source: Wikipedia.



Small Multiples.

Small multiples, sometimes called panel charts, are a great tool in your data presentation bag. Especially when you have a complex data set and want to show nuances in your data. Our eyes can easily pick out details and differences in comparing one postage stamp size graph to another. Purna Duggirala, aka Chandoo, has a great tutorial on how to create small multiples in Excel. I love this infographic-y example of a small multiple, designed (I think) by column 5 media.

Small Multiples chart

Image source: Visual.ly.


Edward Tufte first wrote about slopegraphs in his 1983 book, “The Visual Display of Quantitative Information”. They’re  useful for tracking two related but distinct number variables across a large set. For example, what customers want in customer service, vs. what they get. Jon Peltier of Peltier Tech has written a comprehensive post on how to make slope graphs in Excel.

Slopegraphs chartSparklines.

Another Tufte innovation, sparklines are teeny tiny sized plots which you can plug in right next to your data. If you are at all up to date in Excel, and are sporting a version later than (or equal to) 2010, sparklines are a feature. Here’s a simple tutorial on how to get them going in Excel from Excel Easy in Amsterdam.

Sparklines graph

[1] Cleveland, William S., and Robert McGill. “Graphical perception: Theory, experimentation, and application to the development of graphical methods.”Journal of the American statistical association 79.387 (1984): 531-554.


Gavin is a founding partner at fassforward consulting group. He blogs about PowerPoint, Presenting, Communication and Message Discipline at makeapowerfulpoint.com. You can follow him on twitter @powerfulpoint.

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  1. Glynn Hammond | June 5, 2015 at 3:35 am

    I think the New Zealand sheep graph is actually quite misleading as the left and right scales are not the same. The sheep line suggests that the number of sheep have remained the same whereas they have dropped by 32 million (or 45%). Also there is no population at 1980 (3.1 million). The ratio of sheep to people has gone from 22.5 per person to 9.36 per person. The horizontal scale is not even with the early years compressed into a shorter line length whilst the later years are spread out. I am from New Zealand and this is important to us. Regards, Glynn

    • Gavin | June 9, 2015 at 6:45 pm

      Good point. You wouldn’t know that without really understanding sheep related data.

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