Quick, clean, and to the point

Anatomy of an Excel chart

Excel charts can have a surprisingly large number of parts, each with its own name. In this lesson we're going to break down a sample chart into parts and give you the name for each.

Let's take a look.

Here we have a basic column chart. The chart itself—the rectangle that holds everything else—is referred to as the "chart area." When you select a chart, Excel will wrap the chart in a frame that contains eight handles. You can use these handles to resize the chart.

At the top of the chart is the chart title, and to the left is the legend.

A column chart has two axis: the horizontal axis, which is also referred to as the "category axis," and the vertical axis. The vertical axis is also called the "value axis," since it provides a scale of values.

Both the horizontal axis and the vertical axis can optionally have axis titles as well. Axis titles give you a way to label the horizontal and vertical axis more clearly.

Next is the plot area. The plot area is a rectangle that holds the plotted graphic elements, which depend on the chart type. In some charts, the plot area is overlaid with gridlines.

There are two types of gridlines: major gridlines and minor gridlines. Major gridlines line up with major units on the vertical axis. Minor gridlines are aligned to the minor units set for the vertical axis. We'll look at how to set both major and minor units on an axis in a future lesson.

In the center of the plot area, above the highest value in the chart, is a data label. Data labels display the actual value used to plot an element in a chart. They're a good way to call out specific, important values.

One thing that's not present in this chart is a data table; we'll enable that now. A data table displays the values used to plot the chart. It's a nice way to provide a complete picture when the data set is small. We'll look at data tables in more detail in an upcoming lesson.

Dave Bruns

Download 200+ Excel Shortcuts

Get over 200 Excel shortcuts for Windows and Mac in one handy PDF.