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Trending Dos and Don’ts for Your Excel Dashboards and Reports

One of the most common concepts used in Excel dashboards and reports is the concept of trending. A trend is a measure of variance over some defined interval — typically time periods such as days, months, or years. But building trending components for your dashboards has some dos and don’ts.

Use chart types appropriate for trending

It would be nice if you could definitively say which chart type you should use when building trending components. But, the truth is, no chart type is the silver bullet for all situations. For effective trending, you want to understand which chart types are most effective in different trending scenarios.

Line charts

Line charts are the kings of trending. In business presentations, a line chart almost always indicates movement across time. Even in areas not related to business, the concept of lines is used to indicate time — consider timelines, family lines, bloodlines, and so on. The benefit of using a line chart for trending is that it’s instantly recognized as a trending component, avoiding any delay in information processing.

Area charts

An area chart is essentially a line chart that’s been filled in. So, technically, area charts are appropriate for trending. They’re particularly good at highlighting trends over a large time span. For example, the chart in this figure spans over 120 days of data.

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Column charts

If you’re trending one series of time, a line chart is absolutely the way to go. However, if you’re comparing two or more time periods on the same chart, columns may best bring out the comparisons.

This figure demonstrates how a combination chart can instantly call attention to the exact months when 2010 sales fell below 2009 sales. A combination of line and column charts is an extremely effective way to show the difference in units sold between two time periods.

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