There are a lot of things to like about this relatively simple bar chart from a New York Times story about reducing gun shootings in the United States:

  • The use of the red color on the first and last bar make it easy for the casual reader to see the numbers declined dramatically over the period.
  • The more detailed reader can get more information by going through the little pieces of annotation, made clear by the brief text and year label.
  • The combination of coloring the bars by decade and including just the decade name along the bottom is a really nice way to overcome a challenge many of us probably have—How many labels should we include? What format should we use? And for this audience, it’s unlikely anyone is going to look at a specific bar and wonder which exact year it is.
Bar chart from the New York Times that shows the number of deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled from 1946 through 2016.

In a recent (virtual) workshop, someone asked if this graph could be created in Excel. The question was really referring to an easy way to change the colors of the bars than the tedious process of changing the color of each bar one-by-one. The answer to that question is, yes, simply create three separate series (use “NA()” for the missing entries) and insert a vertical bar chart (a ‘column chart’ in Excel-speak).

What about the labels, lines, and other elements? Yes, all of that can be done in Excel without drawing lines or inserting text boxes. It’s a little long, but by doing it this way, you can more easily change the data, colors, and labels in case the data get updated or you use the style for an entirely different data series.

Screenshot of an Excel file with the remade New York Times' graph

You can see how to create this graph step-by-step on my YouTube channel and you can download the Excel file by clicking here.