It is difficult to see trends or patterns when you are presented with a table full of rows and columns of numbers. A graph – like a picture – can be worth a thousand words when it comes to visually representing data, but creating a graph takes time.
Sparklines come to the rescue. They are a new feature in Microsoft Excel 2010.
A sparkline is nothing more than a tiny graph in a worksheet cell. With a few clicks, sparklines enable you to easily and almost instantly create visual representations of data in rows or columns of a table. They give you a clear and compact graphical representation of your raw data adjacent to it. Although it’s not mandatory for a sparkline cell to be directly next to its underlying data, it kind of defeats the purpose to put them elsewhere. Another advantage of using sparklines is that, unlike charts, they appear on a worksheet when it is printed.
Unlike charts or other elements in an Excel worksheet, sparklines are not objects — a sparkline is an actual tiny chart in the background of a cell. The following picture shows a column sparkline in cell F2 and a line sparkline in F3. Both of these sparklines get their data from cells A2 through E2 and they display, based on the data in these cells, the performance of a stock.
In the above picture the sparkline in cell F6 shows the 5-year performance for the same stock, but displays a Win/Loss bar chart that shows only whether the year had a gain (as in the years 2004 through 2007) or a loss (2008). This sparkline uses values from cells A6 through E6.
Creating a sparkline
Creating a sparkline is easy. Select an empty cell or group of empty cells in which you want to insert one or more sparklines. Click on the Insert tab, and in the Sparklines group on the Ribbon, click the type of sparkline that you want to create: Line, Column, or Win/Loss. In the Data box, type the range of the cells that contain the data on which you want to base the sparklines (or you click on the range selection button to selection your range with drag and drop). Click OK and bingo – you have a sparkline.
Doing more with sparklines
And you can do more with sparklines. As they are tiny charts embedded in a cell, you can enter text on top of them as labels. You can apply a color scheme to your sparklines by choosing a built-in format from the Style gallery (Design tab, which becomes available when you select a cell that contains a sparkline). You can use the Sparkline Color or Marker Color commands to choose a color for the high, low, first, and last values (such as green for high, and orange for low).
And it doesn’t stop there, you can to lots more with sparklines. Read more about sparklines on this page on the MS Office Support site.