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Navigating in uncharted waters of Microsoft Excel charts

Published: April 17, 2010
(Page 1 of 5)

Translating Excel spreadsheets is pretty easy. All you need to do is translate text in individual cells and then format the spreadsheet for the target language user. However, sometimes your spreadsheet will contain charts, making translation more complicated. This article will help you understand and master charts so you can easily translate even the most advanced varieties.

Sample chart
Figure 1: A sample Excel chart

What charts are made of

Excel charts are quite easy if you understand how they are built. Let us look at the components of our sample chart shown in Figure 1 above.

  1. Every chart is built on the basis of some data set, usually taken from a range of cells in the same Excel spreadsheet. Here is the data that was used to create our sample chart (shown above):

     New YorkTokyoMoscowLondon

    When Excel builds a chart, it analyzes values and plots them on the chart depending on the type of chart. The most commonly used types include line charts (our sample chart is an example), bar charts (including column charts) and pie charts.

    Pie and column chart sample
    Figure 2: Examples of pie and column charts

    The chart's data set is always located outside the chart in a range on the same or different sheet, but sometimes its copy appears inside the chart for readability.

  2. Most Excel charts have two axes - a category axis (usually this is the X axis) and the value axis (usu. the Y axis). On those axes, Excel plots the relationship between two parameters. In our example, Excel shows month names along the X axis and the corresponding temperatures along the Y axis. Labels appearing along the category axis are called category names (category labels) .

    Each axis may have a primary axis title appearing near the axis, and (rarely) a secondary axis title shown on the other side. They are appropriately called Horizontal (Category) Axis Title and Vertical (Value) Axis Title.

  3. Each chart shows several values or groups of values in a visual, easy-to-read format. For example, in a pie chart each value is represented by a pie slice, in a column (bar) chart - by bars of the same color, and in a line chart - by a zigzagging or straight line. These values (for a pie chart) or groups of values (for a line or bar chart) are called series. Each series is assigned a unique color to make the chart even easier to understand. Depending on the chart's settings, a series may correspond to a single column or row in the data set. In addition, each series has a specific name which is usually taken from the first cell of a column (or row) in the data set. In our example, you can see 4 series names called 'New York', 'Tokyo', 'Moscow' and 'London'. Series names are also called legend entries because they also appear in the legend if a legend is displayed.
  4. A legend is frequently used to provide meaning to a color assigned to a series. It contains names of each series and indicates the color by which you can find a series on the chart. The legend may be positioned on any of the four sides of a chart.
  5. At the top or bottom of a chart you usually see a chart title.

Chart components
Figure 3: Components of a typical Excel chart

From Excel perspective, there are two more chart components which should be mentioned:

  • Plot Area is the area where the data set is displayed. In other words, the Plot Area does not include axis titles, chart title, legend. For line charts, the Plot Area contains X and Y axes and the area between them; for pie charts, it is the actual pie, etc.
  • Chart Area is the entire area occupied by the chart. It contains the Plot Area, legend, chart title, etc.
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