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Sparklines in Excel

Thanks to Sam Radakovitz, a Program Manager on the Excel team, for putting together this series on Sparklines.

For Excel 2010 we’ve implemented sparklines, “intense, simple, word-sized graphics”, as their inventor Edward Tufte describes them in his book Beautiful Evidence.  Sparklines help bring meaning and context to numbers being reported and, unlike a chart, are meant to be embedded into what they are describing:

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In the above example, the sales number alone gives you a single moment in time, but adding sparklines in the table, next to the numbers it’s describing, gives history and shows a pattern of sales.  The sparklines aren’t floating on the grid of Excel like a chart does.  They aren’t rows, column, or sheets away from the data.  They are in the table giving context to the numbers, unobtrusively, and appear like text in the cell.

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Sparklines in this table are displaying the win / loss record for a softball league … they can convey the entire season of each team in the league.  From reading the sparklines we can tell ‘QPB Ballers’ lost their first game but never lost again, ‘Amazon Bats’ had a rough start but finished strong, and ‘Brusing Borders’ was inconsistent throughout the season.

For this first version of sparklines in Excel we wanted to do a couple of things:

  • Enable folks to easily create the most common types of sparklines found today
  • Create a stable and efficient code base shared with Excel charting that we can build on in future releases

Over the next week or two I’m going to review sparklines in Excel and cover how to create them, style them, adjust options for the axis and group, and give a few other tips and examples of using them in Excel … as well as introduce you to a book store demo file with a variety of different usages for sparklines in Excel:

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Stay tuned!