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Column Charts

A column chart, or vertical bar chart, displays data in vertical bars whose heights reflect their values. Commonly used in Excel, it excels at illustrating comparisons across categories and showing trends over time.

Key Components

essentials for a column chart

X Axis

Represents the category. In the above example, Department is the category. We can also call this a dimension. In other words, it is typically a text variable and not numeric.

  • A special case is a date field/dimension. We can represent dates (months, weeks, years) in the X axis.  

Y Axis

Represents the scale of our measure value. In the above example, Count of employees is the measure.

  • In advanced versions of column chart, we can have 2 Y-axes, one on the left and one on the right.

Column Height

The value for each category determines the height of that corresponding column. 

  • The height of the Sales department column is taller than the Marketing department column.
  • Also, the Sales department column is twice as tall as Finance department column (since Sales’ value is 28 which is twice as Finance’s value of 14)

Why is a Column Chart Effective ?

let's do a simple experiment

Take this simple table where we have a category column (Department) and a Measure column (count of Employees). 

If you could only glance at this table for 1 or 2 seconds, can you quickly determine the department with most employees or least employees. 

Do not worry if you didn’t. For most people, it is not easy.

Now, let’s try the same experiment, this time viewing data using a chart.

Column charts utilize the pre-attentive attribute – object height, allowing quick interpretation of data such as employee counts by department.For instance, Sales, with the tallest column, is immediately noticeable as having the most employees. Learn more about how visual analytics enhance data processing in Why Visual Analytics? – Tableau

When to use a Column Chart?

Most effective scenarios

Simple Comparison

Compare values (metrics or measures) across different categories.

Benchmark

Deviation

Illustrate deviation/variations of actuals from targets.

Highlights

Highlight with color, only specific column(s) to paint a picture of your data.

Trends

Show trends or changes over time.

Distribution

Visualize the range of data across two related categories.

Composition

Illustrate the composition of a whole, comparing relative proportions across categories.

How to Format a Column Chart?

tailor it for your need

The choice of chart formatting should depend on the audience, aimed at clearly communicating data findings. In business, charts facilitate recommendations, helping decision-makers choose appropriate actions based on the visualized data. The key is to tailor the presentation effectively.

Avoid Clutter

Too much information can be overwhelming! Keep the chart simple. Too many columns or categories can make the chart difficult to read.

Label Clearly

Ensure that all axes are clearly labeled. Include a descriptive title and a legend if the chart includes multiple data sets.

Consistent Colors

Use colors consistently to avoid confusion

Choose the right type of chart

Choosing the right type of chart goes a long way in ensuring there is no misleading of conclusions. Column charts are best for specific scenarios outlined earlier. If there is a better chart type, choose that. 

Check for Accuracy

Ensure all data represented is accurate and up to date.

Choose Appropriate Scales:

The y-axis scale should be set to reflect the range of your data accurately. Watch out for non-zero starts, as they can lead to incorrect conclusions. 

Cater to the audience’ needs

Ensure the audience does not have to work very hard to understand the message. If data labels are important for the audience, include it. If gridlines are important, include it.

Keep it simple

If there is a simpler way to communicate the same message, choose that method. 



Most commonly used elements

Formatting a column chart

How to Create Column Charts?

a closer look at the diverse range of column charts

In this section, we’ll take a closer look at the diverse range of column charts featured in our blog posts. Each chart is a visual masterpiece, crafted to convey insights and enhance your data-driven decision-making process.

The Instant Chart Maker

Discover the power of visualization

Discover the power of visualization with our Instant Chart Maker – your simple and effective solution for seamless chart creation. Instantly transform your data into stunning visuals with just a few clicks!

Access a treasure trove of free resources

TO help you master chart creation

The Illustrative Column Chart Guide

Quick 1-page instructions for chart creation.

YouTube Videos

Engage with step-by-step tutorials for hands-on learning.

Step-by-step Tutorials

Explore our in-depth articles aimed at acting as your step-by-step instructor for chart making. Search our list of articles below.