Categorized | excel chart

Chart Label Trick : Applying Descriptive Labels to Chart Series

Chart labels provide information related to the underlying data. In Excel, by default, chart labels can only consist of the following three – Series Name, Category Name and Chart X & Y Values.

Chart Label Trick-chart-label-options-in-excel

So what about situations when you want to convey additional information – for example, say a short description about the chain of events that had a material impact on sales (or say when you want to highlight the fact that a seemingly disastrous dip in performance is actually a special case where a set of sales territories have been excluded). The default chart labels don’t offer too much of a help here. So the only option left at that point is to add a few lines next to the chart describing the chain of events (and hope that the reader reads it before you get a call with an irate voice on the other end). That, however, is not always the case.

So what if you wanted to ensure that the reader got the information right at the time when he sees the chart?

Well what about this :


What we have done here essentially is the used the chart labels to pack additional information (in this case a short description / summary of events) so that the reader is saved the additional effort of having to read the foot notes (or the embarrassment of blowing off even before reading them). How did we do it…well…here’s how

First Step – Adding a chart

First things first, dear watson…..just add a smart little chart to the Excel sheet. Before you do so, lets arrange the chart data in the format shown below:


To create the chart we will use the first two columns (in this case the Month and the Sales figures).


The end result is this neat looking chart (smart ain’t we).


However this is still without the proper labels and that’s something that we will add in the next two steps.

Second Step – Adding New Chart Series – XY Chart

We then add another series to the chart. The values that we use for this series are similar to the earlier one. The category X-axis labels remain the same and is inherited from the earlier series.


So far so good. Bear with me for another few seconds and we’ll be all done :-) Right click on the second chart series and using the “Chart Type” option, convert the series to an X-Y dot chart. Once that part is over, we modify the source data for the second series and add the X values – which are the descriptions that we would like to show to the reader. It is these values that will be used as chart labels in the subsequent step.


Here’s how the chart will look like with the new series:


Adding Chart Labels

Right click the second chart series and turn on the chart labels. In our case, we will use the X-axis as the chart label. While at it, let’s eliminate the X-Y marker too. Once this part is done, the day’s job is done and it’s time to reap the rewards…yipee


Now some may prefer a line chart over a bar, so well here’s to the line(r) version.


You can download a sample worksheet containing chart labels with description

chart labels with description

Excel Formula, Excel Chart, Excel Macro, Excel VBA, Pivot Table Excel, Excel Dashboard

What Do You Think ?

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Comments and Trackbacks

  1. Lincoln wrote:

    Nice one. This will see use from me first thing tomorrow.


  2. Ajay wrote:

    Hi Lincoln,

    Glad this was of help and welcome to da TaB !


  3. Jon Peltier wrote:

    Using a second set of category values for the second series is a clever approach.

    You could also add any type of data label to the columns, then edit the text of each to add the label you want, or select each label (without activating the cursor in its text) and link it to a cell by clicking in the formula bar, typing ‘=’, then clicking on the cell. This places a link formula like =Sheet1!$D$4 in the formula bar, and the label shows the contents of the cell. The linking is a bit more work, but it eliminates adding a series, so maybe it balances.

    This linking can be automated, and Rob Bovey has developed a free Chart Labeler add-in that does this for you (

  4. Jon Peltier wrote:

    The link to the Chart Labeler wasn’t automatically activated. Use this:

  5. Ajay wrote:


    Never thought that linking an individual chart label to a cell would work like that ! Thanks for sharing the tip. I think adding an entire new series to a chart works well when the number of new lables exceeds half a dozen. But when one has a smaller number of labels to work, the approach you highlighted is preferable.


  6. pakz wrote:

    I am using office 2007 to make this chart , and unlike your graph


    My XY points are the right of the bars and not on the center like yours . Any advise regarding this?

  7. Ton wrote:

    Thank you very much. This really help me a lot 😀

  8. Bobby Shewmake wrote:

    This is pretty nice, however I am pretty sure it will not work when using date/time based axes.

  9. Mike wrote:

    Re: Bobby’s comment – “This is pretty nice, however I am pretty sure it will not work when using date/time based axes.”

    Partial workaround: make a secondary column for the x-axis values that contains the text value of the date/time.

    So make B1 =text(A1, “mm-ddd-yy”), then use the B column for your x axis values.

  10. Paul wrote:

    This is really useful but how can you make this work for a scatter graph?

  11. Sudeep Roy wrote:

    Tried it with stacked charts and doesn’t work.

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