Sometimes, you need to make a pie chart in Excel. No, it’s not the best way to present data, but sometimes you have to go with the chart type that someone else chooses.
- Maybe your boss is demanding that you make one for the annual report.
- Perhaps your professor is basing 50% of your final grade on building the perfect pie chart.
- Your sister needs help with a report for her dessert of the month club, and a pie chart seems okay for that!
So, if you’ve never built a pie chart in Excel, or it’s been so long that you’ve forgotten the steps, here’s how you can do the best job possible.
Set Up Your Data
What should your data look like, if you want to build a pie chart? It should have the following:
- just one row or one column of numbers
- (optional) one row or column with text that describes the numbers.
- (optional) heading cells for the numbers and text
Warning – Only use a few numbers, or the pie chart won’t be readable. I’d pick 6 as the upper limit, but let your conscience (or your boss) be your guide.
In the screen shot below, you can see two sets of data showing sales per region.
- At the top, the data is arranged vertically, with numbers in a single column.
- In rows 9 and 10, the data is arranged horizontally, with numbers in a single row.
We could create a pie chart from either set of numbers.
Insert the Chart
After your data is set up, follow these steps to insert a pie chart:
- Select any cell in the data.
- On the Excel Ribbon, click the Insert tab
- In the Charts group, click Pie
- Then, click the first pie option, at the top left. Do not be lured by any of the other options, like exploded pie, or worst of all, a 3-D pie.
A pie chart will be inserted on the active sheet, in the middle of the Excel window.
The chart will show the heading from the number column as a chart title, and a legend with the text descriptions, if your data includes those.
Move the Chart
The new chart is selected, so you can move it to a different location, if you don’t want it in the middle of the sheet.
- Point to the border of the chart, or to the chart area – a popup description tells you what you’re pointing at.
- Then, drag the chart to the location where you want it.
Resize the Chart
When the chart is selected, you can also resize it, to make it larger or smaller.
- Point to the one of the dotted handles on the border of the chart, where the pointer will change to a two-headed arrow.
- Then, drag the handle in or out, to change its size.
You can resize the chart again later, after making all the formatting changes.
Add Labels to the Chart
By default, the chart has a legend at the side, that shows the text description for each slice of the pie. To make it easier to read, you should put a label on each slice, and get rid of the legend. That way, people won’t have to look back and forth, from the legend to the pie, trying to match the colours.
To add labels, right-click on any slice in the pie, then click Add Data Labels, in the popup menu.
Each slice will show its numeric value. You’ll make those labels look better in a minute.
Delete the Legend
Now that the pie slices have labels, we don’t need the legend at the right.
To delete the legend, right-click on the legend, then click Delete.
Change the Data Label Contents
The data labels currently show just the value for each slice, in a small, dark font. We’ll change the information that shows, and make the labels easier to read.
Right-click on any label, and click Format Data Labels
- In the Format Data Labels window, click the Label Options category, at the left.
- In the “Label Contains” section, check the items that you want to see on each pie slice. If you aren’t sure what each item is, add a check mark, to see it in the preview window.
- I’ll include the Category Name and Percentage in this example.
- Keep it simple – don’t try to show all the information in each label
- I left “Show Leader Lines” selected, even though it won’t have any effect in this chart – all its labels will be inside the pie.
- In the “Label Position” section, choose the position that’s best for your chart.
- I’ve selected Inside End, because these slices are all fairly big.
- For a pie with narrower slices, select Best Fit instead.
- Click Close, to apply the changes
Format the Data Label Font
Now that the data labels show the content you want, format them, so they’re easier to read.
- Right-click on one of the data labels, to show the popup menu and formatting bar.
- In the formatting bar, select a font that’s large enough to read – 14 pt in this example.
- If there is room, format the font as Bold
- Select a font colour that contrasts best with the pie slice colours – I picked white.
Pie Chart Alternative
If you have the option of choosing a different chart type, consider making a Bar chart or Column chart, instead of a pie chart.
These charts make it easier to compare the values, as you can see below.
Video: Make a Pie Chart in Excel
Watch this video to see the steps for creating and formatting an Excel pie chart.
Or, watch the video on YouTube: How to Make an Excel Pie Chart