Make bar charts in original order of data for improved readability [charting tip]

Posted on August 10th, 2015 in Charts and Graphs - 4 comments

To make friends in a new town hit the bars – Old saying.
To make sense of a new data-set, make bar charts – New saying.

Bar charts (or column charts if you like your data straight up) are vital in data analysis. They are easy to make. But one problem. By default, a bar chart show the original data in reverse order.

See this example:

fixing-bar-chart-order-for-better-readability

Unfortunately, we humans read from top to bottom, not the other way around.
fixing-bar-chart-order-with-categories-in-reverse-order-option-excel

So how to fix the bar chart order?

Simple. Follow below steps:

  1. Click on vertical axis of the bar chart and press CTRL+1 (or go to format axis from right click menu)
  2. Check “Show categories in reverse order” in the axis options pane.
  3. Your bar chart order is now fixed.

Bonus tip #1: Show bar charts in sorted order

You know what is better than original order of data? Bars sorted by how big they are. Just sort the original data set and your bar chart will reflect the change.

bar-charts-sorted-by-data

Bonus tip #2: Show horizontal axis at bottom

When you “show categories in reverse order”, Excel also moves the horizontal axis to top of the chart. If you want to show it at bottom, you can use below steps:

  1. Go to vertical axis settings (select vertical axis and press CTRL+1)
  2. Set Horizontal axis crosses setting to At maximum category (by default this would be automatic). See this screenshot.

So there you go. Bar charts that make sense.

Making awesome bar charts

If you dig bar charts, you are going to love below tutorials:

and one more joke…

I know we started the post with a joke. But I can’t resist one more.  A default bar chart walks in the bar. The bartender says, “why are you upside down?”.

Written by Chandoo
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4 Responses to “Make bar charts in original order of data for improved readability [charting tip]”

  1. Heather says:

    It's always amazing how much can still be learned in Excel - I've always simply sorted my data set based on what order I want the data to appear in the chart. I never even paid attention to the "reverse order" option.

    But looking at it, I see that it should have been easy to see all these years 🙂 Thanks Chandoo!

  2. Lisa says:

    I have been working on a chart off and on now for a month. Trying to determine which chart would be best suited for the data. My chart has dat for each collector's mistakes for each month. It ends up looking like a bunch of lines divided by the color of month that the data comes from. Yuck! Anyhow I like the graph you show that has the one column in green. Is there a way I can highlight the top 3 areas collector can improve upon?

  3. Lisa says:

    Sorry I just realized that I had clicked on one of the other pages as I was reading this page. The chart I'm referring to is on the keep calm and make column charts.

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