Here we have data for the top 10 islands in the Caribbean by population. Let me insert a standard column chart and let’s look at how Excel plots the data. When Excel plots data in a column chart, the labels run from left to right to left. In this case, the first column is Cuba, and the last is Barbados, so the columns match the order of the source data moving moving top to bottom. A line chart and area chart don’t make sense for this data, but if I temporarily try them out, you can see the plot order stays the same. The main thing to understand here is that the category labels start next to the origin, and each new value is plotted further away from the origin. Now, what happens if I change this chart to a bar chart? At first you might think that Excel changed the sort order of the axis labels. But, if you look closely, the order is the same. The first value is plotted next to the origin, and subsequent values move away from the origin. It’s the layout of the bar chart that makes it look like the data is reversed, since the values are plotted from the bottom to the top. Luckily, Excel includes controls for quickly switching the order of axis values. To make this change, right-click and open up axis options in the Format Task pane. There, near the bottom, you’ll see a checkbox called “values in reverse order”. When I check the box, Excel reverses the plot order. Notice it also moves the horizontal axis to the right. This is confusing, but the gist is that the horizontal axis is set to cross at the minimum or first value by default, which is Cuba in this case. So when I reverse the order, the axis moves along with Cuba. To fix this problem, you’ll want to set the horizontal axis to cross at the maximum value. Now, if I switch back to a column chart, the reversed axis comes along too. To reset the axis to it’s default, visit axis options again and set the axis crossing to automatic, and untick the reverse order checkbox. Keep in mind that that you don’t have reverse the axis in a case like this. You can always sort the source data. For example, to get the same result with a bar chart I could simply sort the source data, smallest to largest.  

Dave Bruns

Hi - I’m Dave Bruns, and I run Exceljet with my wife, Lisa. Our goal is to help you work faster in Excel. We create short videos, and clear examples of formulas, functions, pivot tables, conditional formatting, and charts.