What type of chart to use to compare data in Excel

Following are the best chart types for comparing data in Excel:

  1. Column Chart
  2. Bar Chart
  3. Line Chart
  4. Combination Chart

When to use a column chart for comparing data

If you want to compare 2 to 4 data series then use a clustered column chart:

Alternatively, avoid creating a column chart that has got more than four data series. For example, the following chart contains six data series and it has started looking cluttered:

If you want to create a column chart which contains more than 4 data series then try switching row and column of the chart and then check whether it makes any difference.

To do that, follow the steps below:

Step-1: Right-click on the column chart whose row and column you want to change.

Step-2: Click on ‘Select Data’ from the drop-down menu:

Step-3: Click on the ‘Switch/Row Column’ button:

Step-4: Click on the ‘OK’ button. The column chart will now look like the one below:

Now, this chart is much easier to read and understand.

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Do not use a column chart when the data series you want to compare have different units of measurement. 

For example in the chart below ‘Orders’ and ‘Conversion Rate’ have different units of measurement. The data series ‘Orders’ is of type number. Whereas the data series ‘Conversion Rate’ is of type percentage:

The best thing to do when the data series you want to compare have different units of measurement is to use the combination chart:

If the values of one data series dwarf the values of the other data series then do not use the column chart to compare two data series.

For example in the chart below the values of the data series ‘Website Sessions’ completely dwarf the values of the data series named ‘Orders’:

The best thing to do in such a situation is to use the combination chart:

If you want to compare data series along with their composition then use a stacked column chart:

If you want to compare data series along with their composition but the overall size of each data series is not important then use a 100% stacked column chart:

When to use a bar chart for comparing data

Use a bar chart when the axis labels are too long to fit nicely in a column chart:

When to use a line chart for comparing data

Use a line chart when you want to compare data trends especially long term trends between the values of the data series:

When to use a combination chart for comparing data

A combination chart is a combination of two or more charts. For example the combination of a column chart and a line chart.

Use a combination chart when:

#1 You want to compare two or more data series that have different units of measurement:

#2 You want to compare two or more data series that are not of comparable sizes:

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