DIY Evaluation

Guest Post by Ann Emery: Bad, Better, Best: Fixing Those Awful Default Charts in Excel

*drumroll please*

Today’s post comes from my first On Top of the Box Evaluation guest blogger, Ann Emery, a fellow internal evaluator well on her way to becoming a part of the evalurati*. She will be sharing with us a sample of her talents in evaluation data visualization. Trust me, you’ll want to take notes!

Take it away Ann!


Hi, I’m Ann Emery, and I blog about evaluation here. I’m passionate about helping everyday people understand evaluation, so I love data visualization because it helps me communicate my results more effectively.

Today I’ll share a few tricks I’ve learned from recent data visualization trainings. In particular, I’ll show you how to improve those awful default Excel charts.

Bad: Here’s the “before” version. It’s your typical default Excel bar chart. Is it readable? Yes. But there are way too many lines and distractions.

Better: Check out the better chart below. I removed the tick marks (the dashes along each axis), the grid lines, and the legend on the right. I also added data labels and increased everything to size 14 serif font. I’ve found that size 14 font is best for pasting into Word.

Best:I removed the vertical axis along the left since it wasn’t necessary. I added an axis label along the bottom (“number of participants served during 2011 by age range”). Most importantly, I used the prime real estate at the top for annotating my chart, a trick I learned from Cole Nussbaumer. I also used larger, bold font for drawing attention to the most important phrases.

What are your strategies for turning those default Excel charts into something more useful?

– Ann Emery

*evalurati=term from John Gargani’s EvalBlog post.


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