Charts make it easier to analyze your data. People just seem to process visual information more efficiently than looking at rows or columns of numbers.
While the current version of Excel lets you create over a dozen different chart types with ease, sometimes a simple pie chart is your best choice.
In the last article, we looked at how to create a column chart in Excel. This time we’re going to look at pie charts.
Pie charts are an effective way to show how individual amounts contribute to a total. Pie charts only utilize a single data series but they’re a great way to illustrate relationships between data points.
Let’s look at a couple of examples.
The worksheet below shows income from the sale of baked goods, hot drinks, and cold drinks broken out by fiscal quarter. I’ve used a column chart to show total income for the entire year broken out by category.
Looking at the column chart, we can tell that baked goods provided the most income. We can also see that baked goods resulted in approximately twice as much income as hot drinks. Also, income from hot drinks seems to be approximately twice as much as cold drinks.
Let’s look at the same data represented in a pie chart.
The pie chart makes it easy to see that baked goods represents over half of this organization’s income. You can also see that the income from hot drinks is actually more than double the income from cold drinks.
This pie chart shows how the income from each product category contributes to the overall total. Understanding the relative size of each category is simpler when the data is plotted in a pie chart.
When to Use a Pie Chart
Pie charts can be an effective way to display data visually but they’re not the best choice every time.
You should use a pie chart any time you want to show how various categories of data add up to 100%. In the example below, you can easily see that baked goods represent 56% of this organization’s total income. Hot drinks come in at 28%, cold drinks represent 16%.
Let’s look at a few situations where a pie chart would be the ideal choice.
A pie chart will work well if:
- You want to compare parts of a whole. If all of the individual values in a data series add up to a total (or 100%), a pie chart will likely work well.
- You only need to display a few data points. Pie charts work well when there aren’t too many categories to display. If you need to represent more than 7 or 8 data points, a pie chart might not be your best choice.
- You want to represent a single category of data. Pie charts can’t be used to compare multiple categories of data – and they definitely can’t compare multiple categories over time.
Creating a Pie Chart (Step by Step)
Creating a pie chart isn’t complicated. Let’s work through an example.
Step #1: Select the data you’d like to represent in your chart. In this example, I selected two ranges. I selected cells A3:A5 then, while holding CTRL on my keyboard, I selected F3:F5.
Step #2: Click the Insert Pie or Doughnut Chart button from the Insert > Charts group on the ribbon and select one of the available options. I clicked the first option under 2-D Pie.
Step #3: Move or resize the chart, as necessary. I moved my chart below the source data.
Customizing a Pie Chart
The pie chart from the previous section looks pretty good but there are a few things we can do to enhance its appearance. Here’s what I’m going to do:
- Add a chart title
- Remove the chart’s legend
- Add labels to each data point
To add a chart title, I would simply click to select the placeholder and type “Total Income by Category”.
When it comes to adding, removing, or customizing elements in a chart, you have two options. You can use the Add Chart Element or Quick Layout Gallery controls. Both are found on the ribbon in the Chart Layouts group on the Chart Design tab.
Important: Always select your chart before applying these settings. Tools related to chart design and formatting are contextual – they’re only available if you click the chart first.
The Quick Layout Gallery
The Quick Layout Gallery lets you modify several attributes at the same time. I love this feature because it’s so convenient.
In the screenshot below, I selected the chart and clicked Layout 1.
Layout 1 has a title placeholder, but the legend is removed, and data labels (with percentages) are added to the pie chart. I manually changed the colour of the data labels to white to enhance readability.
Add Chart Element
You can add, remove, or modify individual elements using the Add Chart Element control.
Pie charts display data in a simple manner. Available options using the Add Chart Element include Chart Title, Data Labels, and Legend. All of the other options are greyed out.
The Chart Styles gallery lets you update the appearance of your chart by changing multiple formatting attributes at once.
Your best bet is to experiment with the various styles available. Pointing to a style in the gallery displays a preview of the settings applied to your chart. Click a style to actually apply the style.
The Format Tab
Controls on the ribbon’s Format tab let you modify individual formatting attributes. You can format any element in a chart. Simply click the element you’d like to change, then update it using the format tab.
In the screenshot below, I applied a light grey colour to the chart’s background using Shape Fill in the Format > Shape Styles group, then I added a shadow to the pie chart using Shape Effects.
Pie charts are a simple and effective way of presenting data from a single category. They help people understand the relative size of each data point in a series – and pie charts help us visualize how values are combined to represent a total.
If you’re looking for a an overview of the other charts you can create, check out our ultimate guide to creating charts in Excel.