Learn

The last two visualizations we’ll look at are charts that help us see the change in a numeric column over time.

For this exercise, we’ll look at a dataset containing data on the total production (thousands of vehicles) for different types of vehicles over time (from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics). Here are the first few columns of this dataset:

A table in Excel. There are columns corresponding to the years 2010 through 2013, and rows corresponding to the different vehicle types.

Line charts

Line charts plot points in the data connected with a line to visualize the trend. Multiple lines can be plotted on the same graph to compare trends between groups. For example, here is a line chart of the production numbers above:

A chart in Excel titled Total productions by vehicle type. The horizontal axis lists the years 2010 through 2013. The vertical axis lists numbers in thousands from 0 to 9 thousand. Each vehicle type is associated with a different color line, and a line is drawn for each vehicle type with the height of the line indicating the size of production in that year.

It looks like most vehicle types increased production over these four years, but Vans stayed fairly constant in comparison to the rest.

Sparklines

Sparklines are a feature in Excel that places a trend line (like a mini line chart) next to each row of a table. For example, here is what the sparklines would look like for our vehicle production data:

The original vehicle production table. Next to the 2013 column is a column of trendlines. The lines go up when the numbers in that row increase, and down when the numbers in that row decrease.

Sparklines can be helpful when we want to see general trends for individual categories. In the line chart, the fluctuations in Van production weren’t visible, since they were so small compared to the fluctuations for cars. In the sparkline, we can see them much more clearly.

We’ve placed a slideshow illustrating both methods in the learning environment. When you’re ready to practice this yourself, move on to the next set of instructions!

Instructions

When you’re ready to practice what you’ve learned, download and work through our exercise spreadsheet. A couple of important points to keep in mind:

  • Unlike formulas and pivot tables, we can’t automatically assess your visualizations. We have placed solutions to each exercise within the same spreadsheet. Feel free to compare your work to ours if you get stuck or to check if your solution is correct. Your visualization may not look identical to ours and that’s okay!
  • There are lots of options we haven’t covered — feel free to play around and see how different options work!
  • You can always re-download the spreadsheet if you want to start fresh.

Once you’ve finished, think about the next question.

Question: How did the total production of the different vehicle types trend over the time period from 2010 to 2020?

Our Answer The production of cars was the highest among all vehicle types at the start of the time period in 2010, peaked in 2013, then started declining ever since. The production of truck SUVs steadily increased over the time period and surpassed cars in 2018. The trend of the other 3 vehicle types remained relatively steady over time.

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