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Microsoft Excel 2007: Bar Charts vs. Column Charts

written by: •edited by: Tricia Goss•updated: 5/26/2009

Are you trying to decide between a bar chart and a column chart in Microsoft Excel 2007? We’ll look at the differences between the two types of charts and discuss when you might choose to use one over the other.

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    What’s the Difference between Bar and Column Charts?

    For the most part, bar charts and column charts are really the same thing. Both provide a graphical representation of data using “bars" or “columns" to compare items. The length of each bar or column is proportional to the data that it represents, so a bar or column corresponding to a value of 50 would be twice as long as one corresponding to a value of 25.

    In Microsoft Excel, these types of charts have different names because of the way they pictorially present the data. In short, a bar chart represents the data using horizontal objects and a column chart uses vertical objects. The difference is shown in the two screenshots below. The first image is an Excel bar chart, and the second is an Excel column chart. (Click each image for a larger view.)

    Sample Bar Chart Sample Column Chart 

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    Is One Better than the Other?

    For most types of data, the only thing you need to worry about when trying to decide between creating a bar chart and creating a column chart is the final visual appearance. That is, how does the finished chart look to you? Does it get across the information that you were hoping it would?

    A nice feature in Microsoft Excel 2007 is that you can easily toggle back and forth between these two types of charts. If you start out making a bar chart and decide at some later point that you would prefer a column chart instead, you don’t have to start from scratch.

    Change the Chart Type from Bar to Column (or vice versa)

    To change from one chart type to another, all you have to do is right-click on the current chart and select Change Chart Type.Change Chart Type 

    In the Change Chart Type window that appears on your screen, choose the new type of chart that you would like to use.

    Select Different Type of Chart 

    Since the only thing that you’ll be changing when switching from a bar chart to a column chart (or vice versa) is the orientation of the objects, all other formatting will remain the same. So, if you’re not sure which type of chart to use in the beginning, don’t worry. Just pick one, because you can always change it with just a couple of clicks later.

    Using a Trendline?

    If you plan on using a trendline (we’ll talk more about trendlines in Part 3 of this series) to summarize existing data or forecast future data, you’re probably better off using a column chart rather than a bar chart. It is possible to create a trendline on a bar chart, but it usually doesn’t have the intended effect.

    Column Chart with Trendline 

    In most Western cultures, people are accustomed to viewing linear data from left to right – the same direction that a trendline on a column chart will travel. On an Excel bar chart, trendlines travel from down to up. There may be cases, depending on your data, when this representation makes more sense. However, they probably won’t be too frequent.

    For more information on how to create a bar or column chart, continue on to the next article in this series (link below). Also, you may want to check out the other Excel chart and graph tutorials found here on Bright Hub's Windows Channel.

Bar and Column Charts in Microsoft Excel 2007

This series includes tips and tricks for working with bar and column charts in Microsoft Excel 2007. We’ll explain what they are, when to use them, and how to create them.
  1. Microsoft Excel 2007: Bar Charts vs. Column Charts
  2. Creating Bar and Column Charts in Excel 2007
  3. Creating Trendlines in Excel 2007