When you start producing charts, tables, decks (PowerPoint presentations), graphs, summaries, documents, and any other deliverable for clients and managers, you want your work to be clean, accurate, and organized. After all, clients are paying good money for your work and managers need to understand the data to make decisions. Therefore it is very important that you pay attention to the way that you format and organize your work. You want your work to look like it was made by a professional. Even if your data isn’t perfect, a well-made presentation will give your clients and managers more confidence in your work and a more positive impression.
If you are just getting started with Excel, I recommend you read my post here.
You want your tables to be consistently and neatly formatted. The organization and placement of the data need to make sense. Suppose you have data like this:
You would never present that to the client. The numbers aren’t formatted correctly, there’s no borders for organization, and headers aren’t bolded. Instead, try something like the following:
You’ll notice that:
Doesn’t that look much cleaner? Always be aware of how your data would look from the viewer’s perspective. Ask yourself questions such as the following:
Suppose you want to summarize the data above. For example, you want to provide averages for each numerical figure. You can do the following:
I added a separate row at the bottom, separate from the rest of the table to differentiate it. The font is bolded and “Average” is written at the very left to indicate that this row contain averages of all the companies above.
A lot of times, your clients and managers want to see charts instead of tables. Charts are more visually appealing and may capture the reader’s attention better. I’ve created a basic column chart to show the revenue for each company.
The difficulties with charts are that a) you still need to tweak their formatting to improve visual appeal and b) they lack the details of tables. So, how do we resolve both issues? See the chart below.
I took out the axis and added numerical data points instead so I would have an exact figure. I bolded the company names and increased the font size so they would be easier to read. I also took out the borders for the entire chart.
There are many things you can do to a chart. The key is to think about the chart from the reader’s perspective. Are the fonts big enough? Is the message clear? Do I need to draw more attention to the data? Do I need the axis? Can I consolidate data? These are the questions you need to ask yourself every time you create a chart.
Sometimes you want your spreadsheet to be able to fill in a color or format based on some predefined criteria. For example, see the key performance indicator dashboard below.
These KPIs are used to measure the performance of a certain vendor. Scores from 1-3 are poor, 4-7 are medium, and 8-10 are good. I used conditional formatting to automatically fill in the cells with a color based on the number. Cells with poor scores will fill with red, medium scores will fill with yellow, and good scores will fill with green. Using conditional formatting can better get your message across while improving the visual appeal of your work.
Sometimes you want to add footnotes to your work to add additional context. See the example below.
Notice the following:
Since the numerical data can only tell you so much, you may need to use footnotes to add context and tell a better story or to point out a specific and unique circumstance. However, be careful of overdoing your footnotes. Using too many footnotes or overly lengthy footnotes may take away from the overall message of your data and may get too confusing for the reader.
Keep in mind that you want your data to be as accurate as possible and your overall presentation to flow well, tell a story, and target the right audience.
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