Automate Excel Charts in Two Keystrokes

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By David H. Ringstrom, CPA

Readers of a certain age will remember a television game show in which contestants would state "I can name that tune in five notes," or some such number of notes. Along those lines, I'll show you how to automate an Excel chart with just two keystrokes. I'll first show you the typical way that most users accomplish adding data to a chart, and then I'll share the simple technique that eliminates this mundane need.
Let's say that you maintain a monthly chart, such as the one in Figure 1, where you periodically add another column of data. In Excel 2007 and 2010, most users carry out these steps to expand the chart: 
Figure 1: Most users manually expand charts like this one.
  • Add a new column of data, such as for June.
  • Click once on the chart, and then choose Select Data from the Design tab of the ribbon.
  • As shown in Figure 2, change the Source Data range to be $A$1:$G$3, and then click OK. The month of June should then appear on the chart. Repeat this action month after month.
Figure 2: Steps involved in manually expanding a chart in Excel 2007 and later.
Power user tip: Typically pressing an arrow key within the Source Data field inserts an extraneous cell address. Press F2 to toggle to Edit mode, which means you can use the arrow keys to navigate within the field. 
Alternatively, you can let the Select Data button molder. In Excel 2007 and 2010, click any cell within your chart's source data, press Ctrl-T, and then press Enter. Add a new month of data into the worksheet, and you'll see that the chart expands itself automatically, as shown in Figure 3.
Figure 3: Charts based on tables expand automatically.
Ctrl-T is the keyboard shortcut for the Table feature, which first appeared in Excel 2007. It's actually a revamp of the List feature that has long existed on the Data menu of earlier versions of Excel. Charts automatically adopt the dynamic nature of tables, which expand automatically when you add columns or rows of data.
Unfortunately this technique isn't available in Excel 2003 and earlier. The predecessor List feature doesn't interact with charts in the same fashion as the Table feature in Excel 2007 and later. However, if you're using a current version of Excel, you can use this keystroke process to instantly automate your existing charts.
Read more articles by David Ringstrom. 
About the author:

David H. Ringstrom, CPA heads up Accounting Advisors, Inc., an Atlanta-based software and database consulting firm providing training and consulting services nationwide. Contact David at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter. David speaks at conferences about Microsoft Excel, and presents webcasts for several CPE providers, including AccountingWEB partner CPE Link.



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Ctrl-T makes a table in Excel 2007 and 2010. Ctrl-L makes a list in Excel 2003 (in which it was introduced) and also makes a table in Excel 2007 and 2010. Charts do in fact interact the wane way with columns of an Excel 2003 list as they do with tables in Excel 2007 and 2010.

An easier method than typing a new range into the chart data dialog is to simply select the chart, look for the colored highlight rectangles around the chart data (visible in the worksheet behind the dialog in your screen shot), and move or resize these highlights by dragging with the mouse.

Thanks for reading my work, Jon! In my brief test I didn't find that the List feature in Excel responded the same way as the Table feature, but I'll defer to your vast experience with charting in Excel. 

I use Excel 2003.  I always made tables automatically expandable by including a row/column after the table (which I shade as a reminder that it's the end), and define the table to include that last empty (shaded) column/row.  To add data, I just insert new columns/rows before the shaded col/row.

THIS HELPED ME SO MUCH!!!! Fantastic! Thank you so very very much!!!!

Appreciative Reader, that's a clever way to avoid frustration with charts. Thanks for sharing!

Great topic! Now it lessens the burden on dealing with charts in excel.

Thanks, Ryan! This is always one of my favorite Excel techniques to share.