Microsoft Office Tutorials and References
In Depth Information
Tip 84: Understanding Recommended Charts
How does it work? According to the Excel Help:
Want us to recommend a good chart to showcase your data? Select data in your worksheet and click this
button to get a customized set of charts that we think will fit best with your data.
Don’t believe it. Excel uses some simple algorithms to make its suggestions, but don’t expect any
advanced artificial intelligence. In other words, you will probably never see a recommended chart
that will make you say, “Why didn’t I think of that!”
The recommended charts seem to be limited to the basic chart types: column charts, line charts, area
charts, bar charts, pie charts, and scatter charts.
The recommendations don’t seem to take the magnitude of the data into account. For example, if
you select two data series that vary drastically in scale, a combination chart would be a good
recommendation. But I’ve never seen Excel recommend a combination chart. Rather, it recommends a
column or line chart in which one of the data series is so close to the axis that it may not even be visible.
Even when data is perfectly suited (and labeled) for a stock market chart, that chart is never
recommended. But it does offer some recommendations that are clearly inappropriate.
But the recommended charts feature is not completely useless. For example, if a data series has more
than eight data points, Excel will not recommend a pie chart. That’s certainly good advice because
pie charts are often used inappropriately to display too much data. Also, Excel will never recommend
a 3D chart. That’s also good advice because a 3D chart is almost never the best choice.
Excel’s Recommended Charts feature is certainly a good idea, but the current implementation leaves
much to be desired. The main problem is this feature is intended for novice users — and many of
them will actually believe that a recommended chart is an appropriate way to present their data.
Bottom line: Don’t trust Excel’s chart recommendations, except for very simple data sets. Instead,
take some time and become familiar with Excel’s chart types. Strive for simplicity and clarity, and you
won’t be tempted to take bad advice from a computer program.
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