Use Excel’s sparklines to quickly show trends in data

By Wendy Tietz, CPA, Ph.D.; Jennifer Cainas, CPA, DBA; and Tracie Miller-Nobles, CPA

Let’s say you are showing data to students and you want to talk about the changes in certain data over time. You can quickly highlight the trends by using sparklines, which are mini graphs of selected data.

In the Excel screenshot below, for example, the sparklines in Column F are mini line graphs showing changes in expense items over time.


In Windows, to insert sparklines, start by selecting all the numerical data. Click on the Quick Analysis icon that appears in the lower right corner of your selected data. Select Sparklines and then choose the type of sparklines you want. (Here we selected Line. Other sparkline type choices are Column and Win/Loss.) You can copy the sparkline feature down to the remaining rows.

In Excel for Mac, you also start by selecting the data. Next, select Insert in the ribbon and then click on Sparklines. Click on Line and then select where you want to display the sparkline.

See this short tutorial video for Windows users or this tutorial video for Mac users for a step-by-step overview of how to insert sparklines.

Wendy Tietz, CPA, CGMA, Ph.D., is a professor of accounting at Kent State University in Kent. Ohio; Jennifer Cainas, CPA, DBA, is an instructor of accountancy at the University of South Florida in Tampa; and Tracie Miller-Nobles, CPA, is an associate professor of accounting at Austin Community College in Austin, Texas. See their site AccountingIsAnalytics.com for resources they have developed for teaching data analytics in introductory accounting. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact senior editor Courtney Vien at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.

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