What are Sparklines and How Do I Use Them?

With the launch of Office 2010, there are a number of new features found in the popular productivity programs, including Word, PowerPoint, Excel, OneNote and others. From a now fully-customizable ribbon interface that extends across all programs to a whole new way to copy-and-paste (preview before you paste!), the new suite doesn’t just contain a few tweaks, it’s a big upgrade.

Some of the new features, though, may introduce new words into an casual Office user’s vocabulary. In this post, we’ll look at one new feature in particular: Sparklines.

So what are Sparklines? While Sparklines have been around for a while via add-in programs from third parties, they haven’t been available natively in Excel until now. In short, Sparklines are a feature in Excel 2010 that let you create small charts within a single cell, allowing you to quickly discover new patterns in your data. But unlike traditional charts, Sparklines are meant to be embedded into what they’re describing – in the very same table.

For example, if you want to track the fluctuations in your sales figures, you can add Sparklines next to your raw numbers. See this graph, below, that tracks a store’s sales:

Excel-01_Sparkline

In this graph, the Sparklines chart lets you see how the sales data has changed over time. The Sparklines don’t live in a separate column or sheet, they’re right there, right next to the data they describe. And they don’t have to be in this same format, either – they can either be lines, columns or even win/loss records.

Using Sparklines is really easy, too, even for the novice Excel user. You just select the cell where you want the Sparklines to appear then choose the Sparkline type from the “Insert” ribbon. Finally, you select the cells containing the data you want graphed (or manually enter the coordinates). If you’ve ever used a simple Excel formula before (like “Sum,” for example), the process will be familiar to you and just as simple.

Sparklines are just one of the many new Office 2010 features that make the upgrade worthwhile, we’ll look at others in more detail in future posts.

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