2010-09-25 09:05:10Home grown graphs
Mark Richardson

A few of the graphs that are on the rebuttals look like they were done in excel. I spent bitter hours wrestling with excel to make the graphs look like they weren't done on excel and when I see others wasting less time I feel like I've lost out.

 Does anyone else think we should have some standards? Simple ones like 'try not to make it look like excel' and 'include name and dimensions of axis as an axis title'. Ofc, I'm being hypocritical and several of mine don't look so great, but I'll endeavour to fix them in future/get someone to fix them for me.

2010-09-25 09:58:25Comment
Robert Way

Any advice on how to make them not look excel-ish (even if they were done using excel)
2010-09-25 10:17:46


I subscribe to "existence is a marvelous virtue," a derivation of "the perfect is the enemy of the good." If Excel is what you have and with it you can produce a graph that is prosaic yet not confusing and is properly labeled, etc., why stay mute just because you can't produce something more perfect?

Some loose standards such as including labels for axes etc. seems a reasonable target. 

On a more general note, when it comes to learning the practicalities of building communicative graphs, be sure to buy/borrow/boost a copy of Edward R. Tufte's The Visual Display of Quantitative Information.


Edit: not to say that striving for something visually appealing and even more communicative is not a laudable objective, rather that one should not become paralyzed by that pursuit.  

2010-09-25 10:56:54Formatting in Excel
John Cook


I plot all my graphs in Excel (never got the hang of R) and do a few simple things to make it as simple as possible:

  • White background - lose the tell-tale default grey
  • Remove the horizontal lines - another tell-tale Excel default
  • I usually change the default colours of the time-series to make them nice and bright (okay, I'm easily amused by bright, shiny things)
  • If appropriate, I name each time-series in the Data Source dialogue window so that information is included in the graph, particularly if plotting more than one time-series.
  • I've been a bit slack on labelling the axes, particularly the year x-axis, but when I'm on my game, I always try to add them in
  • I usually also include a heading, keeping in mind there's a likelihood the graph will be used on other websites without all the context of my explanatory text
  • Sometimes, I use colour coding to make the message clearer. Eg - use red for temperature, in the heading I'll make the word 'Temperature' red and sometimes even make the y-axis red if I have different labelling on the two y-axes. That's getting a little gung-ho though
2010-09-25 15:48:21I agree with doug

Not everyone has the graphic-arts sensibilities, time or alternative software to fine-tune graphs. Basic informational guidelines are useful, but if we are going to impose esthetic standards, we should provide a graphics service to implement them.
2010-09-26 01:22:41
Mark Richardson

John covered what I do. An example of one of my attempts is the red one here which looks a little pixellated because of uploading problems but otherwise I think it looks better than basic excel.


Things like changing the colour and transparency of lines, changing the point symbols away from the automatic versions and maybe moving tickmarks inside. Iirc excel lets you make a template, which I really should get round to doing...

If people send me data, I don't mind trying to do graphs if no-one with talent can spare the time.

2010-09-26 08:07:55Which reminds me
John Cook

I forgot to mention I almost always get rid of the default point symbols - much prefer a clean line for visual simplicity. Been meaning to ask too, how do people convert excel graphs to a graphic. My method is to make the graph as big as possible, hit print screen, paste into Photoshop then crop and resize down to 500 pixels wide to remove the pixelisation (Photoshop anti-aliases the edges to make the lines smooth). But that seems a clunky approach - is there a better way?
2010-09-26 11:17:02

Also, remember there's more than one way to skin a cat. See gnuplot,  popular in the scientific community.
2010-09-26 19:09:32Screen-captures


I use SnagIt a lot to create custom screenshots of anything I need to incorporate somewhere, like graphs in a powerpoint or small-scale pictures for the homepage of our local conservation group (most of the pictures on this website are just screenshots with a size of < 100kb).