Noting a False Zero On a Chart

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated July 11, 2020)
This tip applies to Excel 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003


Stephe created a chart and, by using 'Format Axis/Scale,' limited the y-axis to show only the range from 400 to 450. This accentuates variation that would be almost invisible if his chart included the entire range from zero. He notes that this technique has a potential for misleading by exaggeration (whether deliberate or not). Therefore, there is a convention that a zig-zag should be inserted at the bottom of the y-axis to highlight the fact that a 'false zero' is being employed. Stephe wonders if there is a way to add this notation to an Excel chart.

There is not a way to add this indicator automatically. That means you could add one manually, by creating a small graphic with the symbol and then inserting the graphic at the appropriate place on the chart.

There are other approaches that could be used; some of the ideas from these websites may help:

http://peltiertech.com/Excel/Charts/BrokenYAxis.html
http://tushar-mehta.com/excel/newsgroups/broken_y_axis/tutorial/

Another approach might be to combine two charts based on different ranges of your data set. Follow these general steps:

  1. Create your main chart based on all your data, without the adjustment to the y-axis.
  2. Create a second, smaller chart showing only your desired range (400 to 450).
  3. Position the second chart over the first chart (overlay it) so that it fits into an empty area of the first chart and doesn't hide any data points.
  4. Format both charts as desired.
  5. Group the two charts together so they are treated as a unit.

The benefit to this approach is that all your data is visible, a perception of skewing is eliminated, and people can still see the detail that you desire.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (7879) applies to Microsoft Excel 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...

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