This is the first of two posts I'll be adding today on PowerPoint ... because there are a few important gaps, I think, in what's available online about these topics.
Charting data in PowerPoint is a favorite Office subject of mine. Partly, because technically there's no such thing as charting data in PowerPoint (charts created directly in PowerPoint are actually created using an add-in application called 'Microsoft Graph') and partly because you might be able to do a lot more with PowerPoint charts than you thought possible.
You don't really need to know (or care) that PowerPoint charts are Microsoft Graph charts ... I mention this only so that you know that references throughout this article to PowerPoint charts and to Microsoft Graph both refer to charts created in PowerPoint.
It is possible to create most typical business charts directly in PowerPoint, and they're user-friendly, easy-to-edit, etc. One of the nicest things, of course, about creating your chart directly in PowerPoint is that charts are an automatic part of many pre-set layouts -- so keeping the size and proportion of your charts consistent for slide layout is a cinch. What's more, the first four data series automatically take on the last four colors in your presentation's active color scheme, so color-coordinating your charts with your presentation is virtually automatic.
Here's the thing about PowerPoint charts: they don't have the power of Excel's dynamic number-crunching available to them, and they don't have as much flexibility as Excel charts ... but for most business charts you'll use in a PowerPoint presentation, they do have qualities that more than make up for it.
This article will give you some specific tips for charting data in PowerPoint, as well as some tips on when to use Excel vs. PowerPoint for the data charts you want to include in your presentation.
Before we get to formatting PowerPoint charts, when might you want to use Excel instead?
Document privacy is a hot topic these days. You can read about privacy-risk metadata in Office documents just about anywhere. While it's not nearly the complex subject many make it out to be ... it is an important consideration. I raise the subject here because, if you don't want electronic recipients of your PowerPoint file to have access to your chart's data, create the chart in Excel and paste it into PowerPoint as a picture instead of creating it directly in PowerPoint. That way, there's no live data available in your presentation file ... but you can still update and replace the chart from Excel if you need to when editing the presentation.
For more information on document metadata, check out my earlier post The Whole Truth About Metadata in Office Documents.
Complex number crunching behind your chart's data is another good reason to create and manage the chart in Excel, and just paste into PowerPoint as a picture. If the data can change frequently during the course of creating and editing your presentation, you'll end up doing less work by keeping the chart in the Excel file where the dynamic data exists.
On the other hand, if you already have a chart in PowerPoint created from data crunched in Excel ... you can also import the data to your PowerPoint chart in just a few clicks, and update it just as easily. For that matter, you can import an entire Excel chart along with its data directly into a PowerPoint chart. Find tips for both of these tasks in the next section of this article.
Complex chart types are better off in Excel, and sometimes require Excel to get just the chart you need. For example, Microsoft Graph doesn't allow certain chart types to be combined. There's also a little bug in Microsoft Graph that doesn't allow it to hold custom colors well for most line chart types... so Excel is a good solution for those.
However, most of the pie, column, bar, area, scatter charts and a few other types you might want in your presentation will be perfect when created directly in PowerPoint with Microsoft Graph. So, here are some tips for getting that done:
Creating and Formatting Charts in PowerPoint
The most valuable suggestion I can make is this: If you're new to charting data in Microsoft Office, learn the basics of creating and editing Excel charts before you start charting PowerPoint.
Charting in Excel is a bit more complex ... but a good 90% of what you'll do in creating and formatting your charts is identical in Excel and in Microsoft Graph. So, once you know Excel chart basics -- charting in PowerPoint is a piece of cake! The Chart Options dialog box as well as changing chart type or formatting most any chart element (i.e., data series, plot area, chart area, etc.), is the same in both applications.
There's a nice little online training course series available at Office online for working with Excel charts (you might need to be on a computer running Office 2003 to access these courses, but they're free) that will take you through the basics of Excel charting. Start with this one (it's 20 - 30 minutes long and you go at your own pace: Excel Charts I.
That said, here are a few key tips -- a couple of which apply to Excel charting as well, but all of which are designed to help you when charting in PowerPoint:
- Getting started: When charting data in PowerPoint, start with a content slide layout and click the chart icon on the content area. This will open a default chart, the size of the available content area. You can just replace data in the datasheet provided (the datasheet opens automatically) and be done with it ... or you can choose Type from the Chart menu (while the chart is open) to change the type from the default 3-D column chart to a different column chart, a bar chart, a pie chart ... whatever you need!
Note: Open an existing chart on a slide by double-clicking on it. Close the chart and return to the slide by clicking anywhere on the slide, outside of the chart.
- Editing data: When replacing data in the data sheet, or removing rows\columns ... be sure to remove the entire series (you can right-click on either the column or row heading for the option to delete the applicable column or row) -- otherwise, you might get an unwanted gap in your chart where the deleted data used to be.
- Format chart elements: Just double-click on the chart element (such as a data series) to open that element's Format dialog box. Other methods of accessing the correct Format dialog box are to select the chart element and then open the dialog box from the Format menu. Or right-click on the chart element to access it's Format dialog box. In those dialog boxes, you can change or remove borders and fill (such as for series or the plot area), change the placement of the element (such as the legend or data labels), change the font (such as for axes), even change which y-axis is attributed to a series or other options specific to an individual chart type (like the gap width between columns or bars, or the angle of the first slice of a pie chart).
Note: if you aren't familiar with the names of the chart elements, the Standard toolbar available when you're in an open PowerPoint (Microsoft Graph) chart contains a dropdown list with all elements of the active chart. Select any element in the dropdown list to select it in the chart. This is a handy way to both learn the chart elements and to easily select those that might not be as easy to access with your mouse.
- Resize charts: To resize the amount of the chart area that a chart takes up, drag to resize the Plot Area. To change the amount of space the chart uses on the slide, drag to resize the outside handles of the chart object.
Keep in mind that a PowerPoint chart is an embedded object (remember, it's technically a Microsoft Graph chart). Don't resize it from Format, Object when you're on the slide but the chart isn't open ... you've got a fair chance of distorting the chart that way (though it's not that hard to avoid distorting it ... there's an easier way). Instead, open the chart, and drag the black handles on the thatched outside border. There, you can drag horizontal or vertical handles (that is, dragging handles that don't keep the size of the chart proportional) without distorting chart elements like the text.
- Import data or an entire chart from Excel: When the chart is open, there's an option to Import File at the bottom of the Edit menu. If you select an Excel file in the file dialog box that opens, you'll then get the option to select a worksheet (or chart sheet) or even a range within a worksheet. And, you have the option to overwrite existing data in the datasheet for your active chart). If you select an Excel worksheet containing data, that data will be imported and used in your existing PowerPoint chart. If you select a chart sheet, the entire Excel chart will be imported as a PowerPoint (Microsoft Graph) chart, along with its data and its formatting.
Note: If you import an Excel chart but want it to take on your presentation's active color scheme, close out of the chart and then go back into it. It will update to use the last four color scheme colors on the chart's first four data series.
Caution: When you're importing data from an Excel worksheet, be sure that your insertion point in the active chart's datasheet is in the location where you want the first cell of data to appear (usually the very top\left cell of the datasheet) or you might get unwanted results.
- Customize chart colors: When the chart is open on the PowerPoint slide, the Options dialog box available on the Tools menu will offer a Color tab. There, you can see and edit the chart colors used for fills and for lines. Select any color in the palette to modify it ... you can specify an RGB value or select from the available palette. However: Note that this customization will hold for the active chart only -- so, if you need several like-colored charts in a presentation (or across several presentations) duplicate the first chart and edit it to create the others (You can duplicate the entire slide using the Duplicate Slide option on the Insert menu (when the chart is closed and you're on the PowerPoint slide).)
This article is getting too darn long ... so I'm going to stop it here. If your question on charting data in PowerPoint wasn't covered -- just post a comment and I'll be happy to help if I can...
Posted by Stephanie
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