Tiny, Word-Sized Charts in Excel 2010

Excel 2010 allows you to put a simple chart in every cell

Back in 2004, data visualization guru posted an article on his website about small intense charts that he dubbed sparklines. The idea is to fit a lot of data points into a chart that is about the same size as a word.

In Excel 2010, Microsoft implemented three different types of sparklines. It is easy to add line chart, column charts, or win-loss charts for every row in a data set.

Say that you have 100 product lines stretching down from A5 to A104. Columns C:L offer sales for the last 10 years. Select the data in C5:C104. Choose Insert, Sparklines, Line. Specify that the sparklines should be in B5:B104. Excel will add 100 new charts, one per row.

Sparkline Tips

Like the examples in Tufte's article, each sparkline is allowed to have its own axis scale. You may want to force the axes to all have the same minimum and maximum scale. You can do that using the Axes dropdown on the right side of the Sparkline Tools tab of the Excel 2010 ribbon.

You can choose to mark the high point, the low point, the first, and/or last points in the sparkline.

Unlike the examples in Tufte's article, there is no built-in support for adding a label showing the value of the first and last points of the sparkline. In my Charts & Graphs for Excel 2010 book, I show many examples where I could give the impression of a chart title, horizontal axis labels, as well as vertical axis labels showing the min, max, and ending point. All of these labels are added as text in cells that surround the sparkline cell.

Although Tufte argued for small charts, you can make sparklines larger in Excel 2010 by increasing the cell height and width. If you are trying to show 120 data points, it will look better on a monitor if you double the height and width of the cell.

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.