Understanding How Microsoft Excel Builds Charts

May 15 07:31 2008 Stephen L Nelson Print This Article

To get the best results from Excel’s Chart Wizard, you’ll want to learn the terminology that Excel uses to refer to the pieces and parts of the charts you build, says bestselling computer book author Stephen L. Nelson.

Excel’s Chart Wizard and documentation use several charting terms: data markers,Guest Posting data-marker descriptions, legend, chart text, plot area, and chart area.

You’ll find it useful to understand just what these words and phrases mean, so the bulleted list that follows provides definitions.

Data markers

Data markers are the graphical elements used to represent individual data point values in a chart. In the case of a line chart, for example, Excel uses uses symbols, or points, on a line to show data point values. These symbols or points are the data markers.

Other types of charts in Excel use other data markers. A chart that uses columns or bars, for example, has column or bar data markers. A pie chart has pie-slice data markers, and so on.

Data marker descriptions

Excel typically describes and qualifies data markers using the data-marker descriptions such as axis scales and data labels. Different types of charts use different data-marker descriptions. Bar, column, and line charts use axis scales. Pie and doughnut charts use data labels.


A legend names and identifies the data series you’ve plotted. In the case of a pie chart, for example, the legend typically names the data series and then also shows which colors are used for which pie slices. In charts that show multiple data series, the legend lists all of the data series and visually shows chart viewers how to identify data series.

Chart text

Chart text predictably describes a chart or some part of a chart. A chart might include a title that shares the chart message such as "Industry Continues to Grow" or a subtitle that clarifies some bit of information about the chart such as "(five-year forecast of domestic revenues)".

Plot area

The plot area of a chart is the area that includes the data markers and data-marker descriptions. In many charts, the plot area is a rectangle that shows the lines and scales representing the plot area.

In same cases--such as the case of a pie chart or doughnut chart----the circle that shows the slices of pie and the data labels that identify the slices of pie comprise the plot area.

Chart area

The chart area includes plot area, any chart text, and a legend. In other words, the chart area represents the whole enchilada.

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About Article Author

Stephen L Nelson
Stephen L Nelson

Seattle CPA, former tax professor and bestselling computer book author Stephen L. Nelson wrote the MBA's Guide to Microsoft Excel, from which this short article is adapted. Nelson also writes and edits the S Corporations Explained website (homepage), the LLCs Explained website (homepage), and the Fast Easy Incorporation Kits website (homepage).

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