Excel video walk-through: Sparklines

See how to add a little color and direction to your Excel worksheets.
By Jeff Drew

The Technology Q&A column in the January JofA featured an item on “2 Simple Ways to Visualize Data” in Excel spreadsheets. Technology Q&A co-author Kelly L. Williams, CPA, Ph.D., produced two videos for that article. We featured one of the videos last week in the online-only article “Excel Video Walk-through: Icon Sets.”

This article shifts the spotlight to sparklines, which show data patterns and trends via small charts that fit in a single Excel cell. Sparklines are most effective when inserted in a cell near the data being depicted. They can take one of three forms:

  • Line: These simple line charts are effective in showing data trends over a number of periods. If, for example, you are looking at quarterly revenue over a two-year period, you can instantly see if the trend is upward, downward, flat, or up and down.
  • Column: These charts essentially look like little bar graphs. They are good for data comparisons, such as sales by office location or by product category. You can quickly find high performers.
  • Win/loss: These look a bit like bar graphs without the bars. They are good for quickly showing how data is performing against expectations or goals. For example, a win/loss Sparkline can quickly show performance against budget by different departments or product lines.

You can also highlight specific data, choose colors, and adjust sparkline width.

If you would like to follow along with the video, download this Excel file and go to the worksheet labeled Sparklines. Please note that the instructions in the video are based on Microsoft Excel 365 for PCs. Other versions of Excel may have slightly different steps.


Jeff Drew (Jeff.Drew@aicpa-cima.com) is a JofA senior editor.

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