Microsoft Excel 2010 includes a very useful feature called Sparklines. These are little chart displayed in a cell that helps you track and visualize data trends. A Sparkline fits inside a single cell, allowing you to view data and charts on the same table.
Let us add Sparklines to a spreadsheet and see how it works. The Sparklines group is available under the “Insert” tab in the ribbon.
Select the cells where you wish to display your Sparklines, and click on the type of Sparklines you wish to display – Line, Column or Win/Loss. In this example, we’ll select Line.
A Create Sparklines dialog box will pop open and you will be prompted to enter a Data Range. With your mouse highlight the cells you wish to use as your data range.
Immediately, Sparklines will appear in the cells.
A new Design tab will appear in the ribbon from where you can customize the Sparklines. You can change color of the Sparklines, add markers, show high points and low points, toggle axis and so on. You can also skip the customization and instead select from one of the several predefined styles available.
The Column Sparklines display data trends in columns, while the Win/Loss Sparklines shows positive or negative representation of your data set.
You can switch between one Sparklines type to another easily.
That was for Excel 2010. Those who are using earlier edition of Microsoft Office, you can enable this feature by way of a third-party plugins. Currently, there are two available:
TinyGraphs is an open source add-in for Excel that creates sparklines, mini column graphs, and area graphs from a row of data. TinyGraphs offers an additional graph type that is not available on Excel 2010 Sparklines, and that is area graphs. Unfortunately, the TinyGraphs add-in is not compatible with Excel 2010. It supports Excel 2000, 2003 and 2007 only.
The other one is Sparklines For Excel. This supports Excel 2003, 2007 and 2010 as well, and also available for 64-bit editions of Microsoft Office.
Sparklines For Excel is a good plugin but awfully difficult to use. A comparison between Sparklines For Excel and Excel 2010 Sparklines shows both tools evenly balanced, but the plugin version is not very user-friendly.
If you frequently use graphs in Excel, try switching to Sparklines instead.