Pie, Line, and Area Charts with Google Sheets

Pie Chart

As we mentioned in the Chart Aesthetics section, you need to be careful when using pie charts. First, remember to not have too many slices (ideally you should limit slices to 5). They should be arranged from largest to smallest and start at 12 o’clock. To separate slices, you can use different slice colors, or lines.

Make sure your data adds up to 100%. For example, if you want to show a pie chart with the number of fruit your store had sold in a day—–21 apples, 5 oranges, and 32 bananas—–the sum of all fruit, 58, is your 100%. Then a reader can figure out that of all fruits sold, approximately 55% were bananas. This example is illustrated in Figure 5.25. If you decided to include some, but not all other items that your store has sold (for example, you include pizzas but exclude ice cream), your pie chart would not make sense.

Figure 5.25: Pie chart with fictitious source data. Explore the full-screen interactive version.

To make a pie chart with Google Sheets, arrange your data in two columns, Label and Value. Values can be expressed as either percentages or counts. For example,

| Apple  |  21 |
| Orange |   5 |
| Banana |  32 |

Select all cells and go to Insert > Chart. Google Sheets is good at guessing chart types, so it is possible the chart you will see right away will be a pie. If not, in Chart editor in tab Setup, select Pie chart from the Chart type dropdown list.

Notice that slices are ordered the same way they appear in the spreadsheet. We highly recommend you sort values from largest to smallest: right-click the header of your values column, and choose Sort sheet Z-A. You will see that the chart updates automatically.

Right-click on the chart, and choose Chart & axis titles > Chart title to add a meaningful title. In Customize tab of the Chart editor, you can also change colors and add borders to slices.

Line Chart

The most common use of line charts is to represent values at different points in time, in other words to show change over time. The line chart in Figure 5.26 shows per-capita meat availability in the US for the past 110 years. You can see that the level of chicken (shown in light-green) rises steadily and surpasses beef (blue) and pork (gray).

Figure 5.26: Line chart showing meat availability per capita in the US, according to the US Department of Agriculture. Explore the full-screen interactive version.

The simplest way to organize your data is to use the first column as x-axis labels, and each additional column as a new series (which will become its own line). For example, the meat data from the line chart is structured as shown in Figure 5.27.

Data for the line chart shown in Figure 5.26.

Figure 5.27: Data for the line chart shown in Figure 5.26.

The data is available in the Google Sheet Line chart template. If you wish to use it, just make a copy to your own Google Drive from the File menu.

Select the data, and choose Insert > Chart. It is possible Google Sheets will create a line chart right away. If not, in Chart editor in tab Setup, select Line chart from the Chart type dropdown list.

Stacked Area Chart

The line chart in the previous example made it possible to see how individual meat availability changed over time. It was hard, however, to estimate if the overall meat availability went up or down. (That is, of course, if we assume that beef, pork, and chicken are the only meats we eat).

We can see how availability of individual meat types, and the total meat availability over time using a stacked area chart, like shown in Figure 5.28. Here, we can still see that chicken has been on the rise since the 1970s. We can also see that the total availability was on the rise between 1910 and 1970 with a small dip around 1930s, and it didn’t change much between 1970 and 2017.

Figure 5.28: In addition to individual meat availability, stacked area charts show the overall availability. See data by US Department of Agriculture. Explore the full-screen interactive version.

The data for the stacked area chart is available from the Google Sheet Stacked area chart template, which you copy to your own Drive.

Set up the data exactly as you would with a line chart (first column is labels for the x-axis, second and following columns are series, or lines). Select it, and choose Insert > Chart. In the Chart editor, in tab Setup, select Stacked area chart from the Chart type dropdown list.