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Creating Self-Expanding Charts in Microsoft Excel


Charts are a great way to illustrate numerical data in Microsoft Excel, but also offer some special challenges if your data set tends to grow; such as by adding new data each month. Rather than manually resize the chart each month you can instead take a simple action to future-proof any existing charts, as well as any new charts you create. The feature we’ll use to automate our charts is known as the Table feature.

If you don’t yet have any charts to work with, place some sample data in a worksheet, as shown in the figure below. Press Alt-F1 to instantly create a column chart. If you want more control over the type of chart then see the commands within the Charts section of Excel’s Insert menu. In Excel 2013 and later, the Recommended Charts feature uses artificial intelligence to suggest charts that can best illustrate your data.

Presently, any new columns of data that you add, such as April, won’t appear on your chart unless you manually resize the chart. One way to do so is to click the Plot Area of your chart—this is the white space that comprises the area where the chart itself appears. The outer margin of a chart that surrounds the Plot Area is known as the Chart Area. When you activate the Plot Area you’ll see that Excel selects the cells that your chart is based on. You can use your mouse to grab the lower right-hand corner of the selection to include your new data. This is simple enough, but requires that you, or anyone else that inherits your spreadsheet, to remember to do this manual step.

A better solution is shown the figure. By following the numbered steps to make your source data into a table, new data will appear on your chart automatically. You’ll notice that the Table feature automatically shades every other row of your data. You can remove this shading by way of the Design menu that appears when you click on the table. Click the arrow at the corner of the Table Styles section and choose Clear (or pick another shading option). If you wish to remove the Table feature entirely, click any cell within the table and choose Convert to Range and then click OK. This will restore this area of the spreadsheet to a normal range of cells, and you’ll once again have to manually resize your chart if needed.

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