Glossary of charting terminology in Excel

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You can create and modify charts in Microsoft Excel. To do so, you should have a basic understanding of the terminology used in the documentation, dialog boxes, and Help.


The following list contains the definitions of basic terms used in charting in Microsoft Excel.


Similar to template or style, an AutoFormat can change the entire look of the chart but does not affect your data. AutoFormats can be custom (user- defined) or built-in.

Category Name

Individual label on x-axis, also known as tick-mark labels.

Chart Area

The entire chart, contains all of the data series, the axes, titles and legend.

Chart Sheet

A separate sheet in the workbook devoted solely to the chart.

Chart Title

The title or name of chart usually identifying what data depicts, most often found at center top of chart area.

Chart Type Group

One or more data series of the same type plotted to the same Value (Y) axis, listed at bottom of Format menu as Column Group, Line Group, Area Group, Area Group 2, and so on.

Chart Wizard

A series of dialog boxes that simplifies creation of a chart into a step- by-step process that verifies the data selection, shows possible chart types to be used, gives options for additional items such as titles and legend.

Data Label

Value or name assigned to individual data points. Display on chart is optional.

Data Points

These are values from cells on worksheets, displayed as bars, lines, columns, pie slices, or other shapes in the chart.

Data Series

A group of data points such as the entire line in a chart.

Drop Lines

Vertical lines extending from the data point to the category (x) axis that can be used on area and line charts. To set, click the appropriate chart type group on the Format menu and select the check box on the Options tab.

Embedded Chart

This is a chart as an object on the worksheet which can be printed in association with other data or as a separate item. Best when the data needs to be shown in context of the worksheet data.

Error Bars

Error bars graphically express potential errors relative to each data marker in a series. Use error bars in charts to indicate the degree of uncertainty (that is, the "plus or minus" range) for the data plotted in a data series. You can add error bars to data series formatted as area, bar, column, line and xy (scatter) chart groups. All five chart types show y error bars corresponding to the value axis. XY charts can also display x error bars of the category axis.


This is the action of pulling the pieces of a pie or doughnut chart away from each other; can be done to one or more slices.

Gap Width

The value that controls the spaces between cluster of columns or bars, the higher the gap width value, the larger the space between clusters of data markers.


Lines across plot area for easy reference back to axes.

High-Low Lines

The lines that connect highest and lowest value for a category across all series. Can be used on line chart. To set, choose the appropriate chart type group from the Format menu and select the check box on the Options tab.


Box that shows identifying names and symbols for each data series.

Nonadjacent Selections

Also called discontiguous selections, data that is separated by other data or blank rows or columns not to be used in the chart.


Refers to data to be charted and whether it is in rows or columns.

Overlap Value

Value that controls the overlap of data points within a cluster of columns or bars. The higher the overlap value, the more the data markers are overlapped.

Plot Area

The part of the chart bound by the vertical and horizontal axes and their opposing sides.

Secondary Value Axis

Additional value axis that appears on the opposite side of the plot area from the Primary Value axis. It is used when plotting mixed types of data, such as Quantity and Price, where different scales are desired.

Series line(s)

The lines between stacked columns that connect the top of each series within the stack. Can be used on stacked bar charts. To set, click the appropriate chart type group on the Format menu and select the check box on the Options tab.


Variation of a basic chart type.


Indicators on the axes used to mark off division of scale and/or category or separate series groups on x-axis.


Trendlines graphically illustrate trends in data series. Trendlines are commonly used when you are charting problems of prediction, also called regression analysis.

Up-down Bars

Bars that extend between the highest and lowest value for a category. Up bars are white, and down bars are black. They can be used on a line chart. To set, click the appropriate chart type group on the Format menu and select the check box on the Options tab. Gap width can be set for these bars.

X-axis Title

Title or name of what the Category (X) axis is showing, for example, an explanation of labels.

Y-axis Title

Title or name of what the Value (Y) axis is showing, for example, an explanation of scale. The following are set in the Format 3-D View dialog box:
   Elevation    Height from which you view 3-D chart data.
   Rotation     Rotates the chart sideways.
   Perspective  The ratio of the width of the front to the back, or how
                distant the rear data markers appear to be.
   Corner(s)    The points defined by the walls/floor in a 3-D chart plot
                area. Can be use to adjust elevation, rotation and
To set the following, click the chart type group on the Format menu and click the Options tab:
   Chart depth  The shape of the chart base.
   Gap depth    The depth between 3-D columns.
   Gap width    The spacing between 3-D columns.


"User's Guide," version 5.0, Part 3, Chapters 15 - 19


Article ID: 151364 - Last Review: January 19, 2007 - Revision: 2.2
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