Understanding Graphs and Charts

If a picture is worth a thousand words, it's easily worth a thousand numbers. Tables or columns of numbers often appear dry, uninteresting, and difficult to understand?but a chart that shows a graphical representation of the same information can impart instant understanding. It can enable you to see both individual data points and patterns so that you can spot developing trends you'd never notice just by looking at numbers. It can consolidate facts that communicate the big picture more clearly. Not least, well-designed charts make documents look better.


If you want to know more about communicating effectively and honestly with charts, graphs, and statistics, consider these two classic books:

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, Edward R. Tufte, Graphics Press.

How to Lie with Statistics, Darrell Huff, Irving Geis, W.W. Norton & Co.

To help you include dynamic graphs in your documents, Word 2003 calls on Microsoft Graph whenever you ask to create or insert a chart.

You can create many types of charts with Graph. All of them, however, have one thing in common: a data source. Your source data can be on the same page, elsewhere in the same document, in another Word file, or in a file created in Excel or some other program.

For more information about building charts in Word that use Excel data, see "Establishing a Link with Microsoft Excel," p. 541.

Although it still requires thought to produce high-quality, usable, and effective graphs, Word does make the mechanics of creating a graph very straightforward. Following is a high-level overview of the process of creating a chart in Word, using Graph:

  1. Select the values in your Word document that you want to graph. (As you'll see, this step is optional; you can enter your source data directly in a Microsoft Graph datasheet. However, in most cases you'll already have created the data you want to graph; you may as well use that data rather than starting from scratch.)

  2. Choose Insert, Picture, Chart to run Microsoft Graph. Graph inserts a basic chart in your document, immediately under the source data.

  3. Right-click on the chart and choose Chart Type from the shortcut menu.

  4. Set the Chart Type. In other words, tell Word what kind of chart you want. Your choices include bar charts, line chart, pie charts, and many others.

  5. Right-click on the chart and choose Chart Options.

  6. In the Chart Options dialog box, specify the elements you want the chart to include, such as titles, gridlines, legends, and data labels.

  7. Format the chart and its elements, selecting fonts, colors, backgrounds, and other attributes.

  8. Take another look at the chart and make any changes you want, using Graph's editing, formatting, and drawing tools.

  9. Click outside the chart area to return to Word.

The following sections take a closer look at each step of the process.


Microsoft uses the terms "graph" and "chart" interchangeably throughout Microsoft Graph. This chapter does as well.

    Part I: Word Basics: Get Productive Fast
    Part II: Building Slicker Documents Faster
    Part III: The Visual Word: Making Documents Look Great
    Part IV: Industrial-Strength Document Production Techniques
    Part VI: The Corporate Word