How to Create a Bar Graph in MS Excel

A bar graph is a visual representation of data using vertical and horizontal bars in a graph. It helps compare data values. You can compare various data sets, survey results, variables, and values. You can also compare the number of trades executed in a day and more. 

Bar graphs show the relationship of the data using the Y-axis (values) and the X-axis (categories). Bar graphs are a commonly used method of data representation by various industries.

When to Use a Bar Graph?

  • To present small data sets 
  • You want to compare different variables and values
  • To display survey results
  • To compare various sets of data
  • To show categories and sub-categories
  • When you have large text labels

In this tutorial, you will learn how to make, sort and customize a bar graph in MS Excel. 

How to Create a Bar Graph in Microsoft Excel

We are using fictional sales data for eight metropolitan cities in the country. This will be our source data for the tutorial.

Step #1: Open Microsoft Excel

Open an existing spreadsheet or create a new sheet. 

Enter the data as shown in the following example.

Step #2: Select data to plot the chart

Click with your mouse on cell A1. While holding the mouse button down, drag your cursor to B1 and then to the bottom of the column (Cell range A1:B9).


Click with your mouse on A1 and press CTRL+A to select the cell range A1:B9.

Step #3: Select the chart to plot

On the main menu bar, click the Insert tab.

On the Insert ribbon, navigate to the Charts group.

Click the Insert Column or Bar Chart icon to display the graph options.

Tip: Hover with your mouse over the icons to see their names.

You can select 2-D Column or 2-D Bar.

In this tutorial, we will insert the standard bar chart.

Click the first clustered chart icon in 2-D Bar Graph as illustrated above.

Excel will use your data set and create the bar chart on your worksheet.

Excel uses column labels to set the axis and the chart title. 

Excel converts the sales data to a bar graph. It depicts the comparison of sales in each of the metropolitan cities. 

The bar graph displays one data series. That is because our source data contains one column of numbers – Sales. 

Bar graphs are dynamic. You can change the values in your source data and view the changes in the corresponding graph.

Did you notice that Excel displays the data categories in reverse order on the bar graph? Instead of top-down, the categories display bottom-up. You can always fix this by sorting the data in your dataset.

Sorting Data on a Bar Graph

Sort data if your source data appears in descending order but displays it in ascending order on the bar graph. There are different ways to sort the data displayed on the graph. We explain two options here.

Option #1: Switch rows to rearrange the data

To change the data category display in your bar graph from top-down:

Switch the rows to rearrange the source data to bottom-up as illustrated below.

Sometimes the source data sort order does matter and re-arranging the rows may not be an option for you. If that is the case, you can still sort the data on the graph without switching rows in the source data.

You can also list the cities alphabetically in your datasheet to rearrange the data.

Option #2: Sort data categories on the bar graph only

Select the bar graph by clicking on it. 

Click on the vertical axis and right-click with your mouse.

From the pop-up menu, select Format Axis to display the corresponding Format Axis pane.

Or you can double-click the vertical axis labels to display the Format Axis pane. 

In the Format Axis pane, under Axis Options select:

  • Under the Horizontal axis crosses, select At maximum category.
  • Under the Axis position, select the Categories in reverse order.

Excel sorts the bar graph to match the source data.

Your bar graph is ready, so let us now customize it.

Customizing the Bar Graph

After creating a bar graph, customize it to make it easy to read and represent.

Like all MS Excel graphs and charts, you can customize the bar graph to match your 

needs. You can change the bar graph design, title, axes, color, and data labels, and add a trendline. Let us look at customization options specific to the bar graph.

Step #1: Activate the chart tools options

Click on the chart for the Chart Design and Format tabs to display as ribbons.

Click the Chart Design tab.

Hover your cursor over Chart Styles for a preview of the styles. Each style includes several chart elements. Select the one you want to use.


Click on the Quick Layout option in the Charts Layout group on the ribbon. 


Click the  icon to edit the Chart Styles

Click the Style tab to scroll up or down and select a chart style from the dropdown list. 

Select the layout that best meets your preferences.

Excel charts and graphs have inbuilt elements in the layout. You can add individual elements to your graph to match your needs.

Step #2: Add chart elements

To add Chart Elements, select the chart, click the green plus icon on the right of the chart, 


Double-click on the chart.


Click on the Add Chart Element in the Charts Layout group on the ribbon and select the element from the menu.

You can Add a chart element by clicking the checkbox against each element name. 

To remove a chart element, deselect the checkbox.

The bar chart above displays the chart elements selected. Add or remove chart elements by clicking the checkbox against each element name. 

Step #3: Edit chart styles and color

Click the pencil  icon to edit the Chart Styles

Click the Style tab to scroll up or down and select a chart style from the dropdown list. 

Click the Colors tab to change the chart theme color, as shown in the above illustration.


Click on Change Colors on the ribbon to select the color palette.

To further customize these colors, click on ‘How do I change these colors?’ at the bottom of the color pane.

This will display the corresponding tooltip. 

Read the contents and change the theme colors as per your needs.

After applying a new chart theme color, the bar colors have changed. 

Step #4: Increase bar width

To increase the bar width, click on any bar. 

This action selects all the bars in the graph.

Right-click the bar.

From the pop-up menu, select Format Data Series.

In the Format Data Series pane, drag the Gap Width slider to the left to reduce the percentage. Reducing the gap width increases the width of each of the bars.

To reduce the width of each of the bars, drag the Gap Width slider to the right to increase the percentage. 


Click on the Up or Down arrow in the Gap Width box to increase or decrease the width of the bars as illustrated below.

Step #5: Highlight some bars with a different color

In this example, let us highlight the city with the largest sales – Bangalore, with a different color.

Double-click on the bar to select the specific bar.

Note: Single click selects all the bars. 

Right-click the selected bar and click the paint icon. Select a new color for the bar as illustrated below.

The bar representing Bangalore is highlighted in red.

Step #6: Format the Y-Axis and the X-Axis

Click and select the Y-axis.

From the Chart Tools group, click the Format tab.

From the Chart Tools group, click the Format tab.

Click the Shape Outline dropdown. Select black for the line color.

Click on Weight, and from the dropdown select a thicker line weight.

Next, select the X-axis and select the same line color – black and the thicker line weight. 

In the illustration above, the modified Y-axis and the X-axis are more prominent.

Step #6a: Add tick marks to the X-Axis

Select the X-axis by clicking on it. 

Right-click and from the pop-up menu select Format Axis.

In the Format Axis pane, click the down arrow on the left of the Tick Marks option to expand the list of options.

In the Major Type dropdown select Outside.

The X-axis will display tick marks as illustrated below.

Step #7: Add data labels

Let us add data labels to each bar.

Click any bar and right-click.

From the pop-up menu, select Add Data Labels, and click the right arrow to select from: 

  • Add Data Labels 
  • Add Data Callouts 

In this example, we will add data labels. 

By default, Excel adds the data labels to the outside end of each bar.

You can change the position of the data labels.

Step #7a: Change the data label position

To change the data label position, click any data label. It selects all the data labels.

Right-click and from the pop-up menu select Format Data Labels.

In the Format Data Labels pane, make the following changes:

In Label Options, under Label Position, select Inside End.

In Text Options, under Text Fill select Solid Fill and select a different text fill color. 

In the above illustration, the data labels are on the inside end. 


Bar graphs are easy to make and simple to understand. For a perfect bar graph, the correct data format is a must. Unless you have distinct categories of data, you cannot plot a bar graph. 

If you have a large number of categories, a bar graph may not be the ideal choice to plot a graph. Bar graphs help summarize a large data set in pictorial format. A graph can convey much more information than words can.

You can use bar graphs to track your personal monthly finances too!

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