Creating Charts With Google Docs

Welcome to The Cloud. You’ll hear that just about everywhere these days. One of the biggest software categories to make the move to the Web is document-based productivity tools. The unquestioned leader in that realm is Google Docs, which lets you create documents, spreadsheets, and presentations.

But to truly qualify as “desktop replacement” software, you’re going to need to be able to do everything that you can with your current editor of choice. Today we’re going to take a look at a common need from a spreadsheet program – chart creation.

First Of All, The Data

Ok, so it may seem a little obvious, but before you can create a chart with Google Docs, you’re going to need some data to chart. Specifically, you’re going to need some numbers. See, that’s one place where I ran into some issues when I started to create my charts. If you look at the screenshot below, you’ll notice that one of the columns is the name of the laptop I’m listing information for.

The Data

The Data

If I include that column within the scope of my chart data, I won’t have access to any of the charts, Google Docs will only offer me the option of showing the selected data in table format. So make sure your data consists of purely numbers.

Configuring Your Chart

Now that you’ve got the right data together, clicking on the Chart button in the toolbar will bring up the Chart Editor. You’ve got a lot of control here, but it isn’t overwhelming. Clear icons and succinct labels help un-complicate the UI. If the initial options aren’t enough, you have two more tabs of options: Charts and Customize.

The Chart Editor

The Chart Editor

This is really the biggest step. Remember to explore the Customize tab once you’ve settled on the chart type you’d like, because the options there change depending on the type of chart you’ve selected.

Google Docs offers over 8 different chart types to choose from. You’ve got everything from the traditional bar, line, and pie graphs, to more interesting options like scatter plots and trend graphs.

Chart Types

Chart Types

As I mentioned before, chart customization options change depending on the type of chart you select, but there are several that stay the same. From the Customize tab you can add a title to your chart, control the layout of the legend, and the labels on both the vertical and horizontal axises. The Features section of the Customize tab is where you get custom options for each chart style. And below that, you have some basic Style options, controlling the colors of the chart and the background.

Chart Customizing

Chart Customizing

Exporting Your Chart

Now that, using the data that you put in earlier, you’ve created a chart to your liking, it’s time to share it with the world. Google Docs offers two options for publishing the chart by itself. After inserting the chart onto your spreadsheet, clicking on it once will reveal a title bar. Clicking that title will reveal a dropdown menu of options, one of which is “Publish chart…”.

Publishing a Chart

Publishing a Chart

You can either publish the chart using JavaScript for added interactivity, or as a static JPEG image, it’s up to you. You can preview what the interactive chart would look and behave like within your spreadsheet, simply click on the chart to bring the cursor’s focus to it, and hover over points on the graph. Additional information will appear, explaining just what exactly that piece of the graph is depicting. They’re really quite slick, another clear example of what makes the Web so great.

The Interactive Chart

The Interactive Chart

Wrap Up

So you can see, Google Docs offers simple, easy-to-use chart creation tools for free. A lot of businesses, and consumers, with light office-type productivity needs are finding Google Docs to be a wonderful substitute for a full-blown office suite. Maybe it’ll be like that for you. You can safely say creating charts is a breeze.


  • Dan P

    Even though this has little bearing on the point of the article, it was bothering me a little…

    The RAM title field should have either been RAM or RAM Capacity to keep the current values,

    otherwise keep the title and replace all the values with 1333MHz

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