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Combining Chart Types, Adding a Second Axis

(This post was originally written and published by Katherine Fifer, an intern on the Excel 2007 team. We’ve updated it for Excel 2010 and added a sample worksheet to help you learn.)

Often it is useful to create charts that compare different types of data. For example, you might want to compare a stock’s share price with its trading volume, or overall corporate revenue with the number of units sold.

To quickly and clearly display data of different types, it can be helpful to plot varying data sets either with different chart types or on different axes.  

Getting Started

Suppose I work at a manufacturing company, and I’d like to analyze the number of units we’ve sold over the last few months and the total revenue generated.   I’m hoping to identify trouble spots, such as high unit sales that result in low revenue, which may in turn indicate that the units are being sold too cheaply.

I could make two different charts – one plotting units sold per month, and another plotting total transaction revenue by month. However, it will be challenging to analyze and compare the two charts separately.  I’d much rather create a single chart that incorporates both data sets such as the one shown below.

Chart Showing Both Units Sold and Total Transactions

 Combined Chart

Daunting though it may seem, it turns out that making this kind of chart isn’t very difficult at all. We’ll walk you through the two major steps — combining different chart types and adding a secondary axis.  Then we’ll show you how to add some finishing touches to make your chart look polished and professional.

Combining Different Chart Types

Create a Data Set

To ensure you can follow along, we’ve created a simple data set, as well as a sample workbook that you can use to walk through the steps yourself:

Sample Data Showing Units Sold and Total Transactions

Data Set for Charting

Select Your Data Set

The first step in building a chart with more than one chart type is to actually set up a chart with just a single chart type. For this scenario, I want a chart with columns and lines, but I’ll start with a regular column chart. (Note: It actually doesn’t matter which chart type you start with, but if you’re working with a multiple data sets, I’d pick the chart type which applies to the majority of your data – it’ll mean less work for you later).

  1. Select the data that you would like to use for your chart.
  2. Go to the Insert tab, and then choose a type of column to insert (as shown below). For the sake of this scenario, select one of the 2-D column types.

Selecting A Chart Type

Chart Selection Menu 

 

Now we have a column chart with two data sets (Units Sold and Total Transactions), both charted using the same chart type.

 Chart Tracking Two Different Data Sets

Chart Tracking Two Data Sets

 

Changing One of the Data Sets to a Line Chart

The next big step is to change the chart type for the Total Transactions data set into a line chart.

1.  Click on the Total Transactions data column in the chart. Don’t click on the legend text “Total Transactions.” Rather, click on one of the red bars in the chart. You should now see the data set highlighted as follows:

Selecting a Data Set on a Chart

Selecting One Chart Type for Conversion 

2.  Once you have selected the Total Transactions column in the chart, you will see the following button in the Type Group section:  Change Chart Type

3. Click on the Change Chart Type button

4. This will bring up the Change Chart Type dialog box. Select the new chart type you’d like to use. In this case, select the Line chart and hit OK.

Change Chart Type Dialog

 Change Chart Button

Voila, you’ve created a chart with two chart types (column and line)!

In fact, you can combine far more than two chart types by repeating the above process with additional data sets, and selecting a different type from the Change Chart Type dialog box.

Chart Plotting Two Data Sets with Bar and Line Chart

Chart with a Bar Chart and Line Chart

 

Add a Secondary Axis to Make Charts Easier to Read

While quite cool, our chart is still difficult to analyze because the scale of the Total Transactions is much larger than the scale of the Units Sold, and so we can’t gain much insight from the virtually indistinguishable columns. To make the chart easier to read, the Total Transactions should be converted to a secondary axis, thus allowing for the data sets to be scaled differently.  Here’s how you convert a data set to a secondary axis.

1. Click the Total Transactions line chart (do this exactly as described in the “Changing One of the Data Sets to a Line Chart” step above).

2. Navigate to the Layout tab on the main menu.

3. In the Current Selection section on the far left, make sure the dropdown selection reads “Series Total Transactions.”

4. Click Format Selection (see the image below) to display the Format Data Series dialog box.

Formatting options on the Layout tab

 Chart Formatting and Layout Options

5. Click the Secondary Axis button in the Series Options section, and then click Close.

Format Data Series Dialog

Chart Format Series Dialog

 

You’ve now successfully added a secondary axis to your chart!  Your chart should look like this:

Chart with Secondary Axis Added

Finishing Touches

You have now created a chart that displays your data in way that allows for easy analysis. Now you can do fit-and-finish work to make your combined chart look more professional.

Make Your Chart Legend More Visible

If you move the chart legend to the bottom of your combined chart, it will separate it from the Total Transactions axis and so better highlight it.

1. Click the Chart Layout tab, and then click Legend.

2. Choose Show Legend at Bottom.

Formatting Options for Chart Legend

Chart Legend Formatting Menu 


Legend Appearing at the Bottom of the Chart

Chart with Legend Moved to the Bottom

Change the Secondary Axis Label

We want the Total Transactions axis to display dollar signs since this is the value we are tracking.

1. Right-click the Total Transactions axis label and select Format Axis.

2. Click the Number tab at the left-hand side of the of the Format Axis dialog box.

3. Click Currency from the Category list. If you don’t like a decimal place and subsequent zeros, remove the two right-most zeros and the decimal place from the Format Code box.

4. Click Add, and then click Close.

    Format Axis Menu

    Dialog for Formatting Chart Axis

    Add Axes Titles

    To know precisely what you’re tracking, you can add axes titles (labels) to the chart.

    1. Go to the Layout tab, and choose Axis Titles.

    2. On the list that appears, choose Primary Vertical Axis Title.

    3. Then choose whichever option you’d like- in this case, I’ll choose Rotated Title

    4. Type in the title you’d like. For this scenario, use the title “Units Sold.”

    5. Do the same for the Secondary Vertical Axis Title

     Adding an Axis Title

    Add Chart Axis Title Menu

    Add a Chart Title

    Finally, we want to add a descriptive title so it’s clear to everyone what the chart is depicting.

    1. Go to the Layout tab, and click the Chart Title button.

    2. Select a location for the chart title.

    Chart Title Creation

      Add Chart Title Menu

       

      And that’s all there is to it!  Now you have professional looking chart that clearly displays data for both chart types

      A Completed Chart with Consisting of Two Chart Types

      Completed Combined Chart with Finishing Touches

       By repeating the steps outlined in this post with additional data sets, you can create even more complex (yet readable) charts.

       More info on Excel charts:

      Our eight best tutorials on Excel charts

      Create a chart from start to finish

      Free training: Take the next steps in growing your Excel skills (Lesson 2)

      Go beyond the basic chart type

      Can’t find the Chart Wizard? No worries

      Use sparklines to show data trends

      Line or scatter chart?

      Format column sparkline charts using the date axis and cell merging