PowerPoint 2016: Charts

Lesson 23: Charts



A chart is a tool you can use to communicate data graphically. Including a chart in a presentation allows your audience to see the meaning behind the numbers, which makes it easy to visualize comparisons and trends.

Optional: Download our practice presentation for this lesson.

Watch the video below to learn more about using charts in PowerPoint.

Types of charts

PowerPoint has several types of charts, allowing you to choose the one that best fits your data. In order to use charts effectively, you'll need to understand how different charts are used.

Click the arrows in the slideshow below to learn more about the types of charts in PowerPoint.

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    PowerPoint has a variety of chart types, each with its own advantages. Click the arrows to see some of the different types of charts available in PowerPoint.

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    Column charts use vertical bars to represent data. They can work with many different types of data, but they're most frequently used for comparing information.

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    Line charts are ideal for showing trends. The data points are connected with lines, making it easy to see whether values are increasing or decreasing over time.

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    Pie charts make it easy to compare proportions. Each value is shown as a slice of the pie, so it's easy to see which values make up the percentage of a whole.

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    Bar charts work just like column charts, but they use horizontal bars instead of vertical bars.

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    Area charts are similar to line charts, except the areas under the lines are filled in.

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    Surface charts allow you to display data across a 3D landscape. They work best with large data sets, allowing you to see a variety of information at the same time.

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Identifying the parts of a chart

In addition to chart types, you'll need to understand how to read a chart. Charts contain several different elements—or parts—that can help you interpret data.

Click the buttons in the interactive below to learn about the different parts of a chart.

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The legend identifies which data series each color on the chart represents. In this example, the legend identifies the different months in the chart.

Inserting charts

PowerPoint uses a spreadsheet as a placeholder for entering chart data, much like Excel. The process of entering data is fairly simple, but if you are unfamiliar with Excel you might want to review our Excel 2016 Cell Basics lesson.

To insert a chart:

  1. Select the Insert tab, then click the Chart command in the Illustrations group.
  2. A dialog box will appear. Select a category from the left pane, and review the charts that appear in the right pane.
  3. Select the desired chart, then click OK.
  4. A chart and a spreadsheet will appear. The data that appears in the spreadsheet is placeholder source data you will replace with your own information. The source data is used to create the chart.
  5. Enter data into the worksheet.
  6. Only the data enclosed by the blue lines will appear in the chart, but this area will expand automatically as you continue to type.
  7. When you're done, click X to close the spreadsheet.
  8. The chart will be completed.

You can edit the chart data at any time by selecting your chart and clicking the Edit Data command on the Design tab.

You can also click the Insert Chart command in a placeholder to insert a new chart.

Creating charts with existing Excel data

If you already have data in an existing Excel file you want to use for a chart, you can transfer the data by copying and pasting it. Just open the spreadsheet in Excel, select and copy the desired data, and paste it into the source data area for your chart.

You can also embed an existing Excel chart into your PowerPoint presentation. This may be useful when you know you'll need to update the data in your Excel file and want the chart to automatically update whenever the Excel data is changed.

Read our guide on Embedding an Excel Chart for more information.

Modifying charts with chart tools

There are many other ways to customize and organize your charts. For example, PowerPoint allows you to change the chart type, rearrange a chart's data, and even change the layout and style of a chart.

To change the chart type:

If you find that your data isn't well suited to a certain chart, it's easy to switch to a new chart type. In our example, we'll change our chart from a column chart to a line chart.

  1. Select the chart you want to change. The Design tab will appear on the right side of the Ribbon.
  2. From the Design tab, click the Change Chart Type command.
  3. A dialog box will appear. Select the desired chart type, then click OK.
  4. The new chart type will appear.

To switch row and column data:

Sometimes you may want to change the way charts group your data. For example, in the chart below the book sales data is grouped by genre, with lines for each month. However, we could switch the rows and columns so the chart will group the data by month, with lines for each genre. In both cases, the chart contains the same data; it's just organized differently.

  1. Select the chart you want to modify. The Design tab will appear.
  2. From the Design tab, select the Edit Data command in the Data group.
  3. Click the chart again, then select the Switch Row/Column command in the Data group.
  4. The rows and columns will be switched. In our example, the data is now grouped by month, with lines for each genre.

We've noticed that when numerical data has been entered in the first column of the spreadsheet, switching rows and columns may cause unexpected results. One solution is to type an apostrophe before each number, which tells the spreadsheet to format it as text instead of a numerical value. For example, the year 2016 would be entered as '2016.

To change the chart layout:

Predefined chart layouts allow you to modify chart elements—including chart titles, legends, and data labels—to make your chart easier to read.

  1. Select the chart you want to modify. The Design tab will appear.
  2. From the Design tab, click the Quick Layout command.
  3. Select the desired predefined layout from the menu that appears.
  4. The chart will update to reflect the new layout.

To change a chart element (such as the chart title), click the element and begin typing.

To change the chart style:

Chart styles allow you to quickly modify the look and feel of your chart.

  1. Select the chart you want to modify. The Design tab will appear.
  2. From the Design tab, click the More drop-down arrow in the Chart Styles group.
  3. Select the desired style from the menu that appears.
  4. The chart will appear in the selected style.

You can also use the chart formatting shortcut buttons to quickly add chart elements, change the chart style, and filter the chart data.


  1. Open our practice presentation. You will also need to download our practice workbook.
  2. On the last slide, insert a line chart.
  3. Open our practice workbook in Excel. Copy the data and paste it into the chart's spreadsheet.
  4. Delete the chart title.
  5. Change the chart type to Stacked Column.
  6. Use the Quick Layout drop-down menu to change to Layout 10.
  7. Click the Chart Elements shortcut button, click the arrow next to Axis Titles, and select the Primary Vertical axis title.
  8. Double-click the axis title, then rename it Sale Profits.
  9. Switch the Row/Column data.
  10. When you're finished, your slide should look something like this:
    Chart Challenge