Excel's a master at charts, but sometimes you don't need all its bells and whistles. Sometimes, you just want to visually compare values. For example, the sheet below lists units sold per person. Because the list is short, a quick glance is all you need to determine that Bill sold the most and Kate sold the least. If that's all you need, a quick sort will display the highest and lowest values in a longer list, but a sort won't give you a feel for the overall performance—you can't compare values.
To get a quick feel for how each value compares to the others in the group, without using Excel's chart feature, use REPT(). This function repeats a character, and you can use it to draw a quick picture, as follows:
- For this example, select cell C2.
- Enter the following formula, =REPT("I",B2).
- Copy the function in C2 to cells C3:C9.
By repeating the character I, the REPT() function creates a bar. Extending the function creates a simple chart.
The first argument, the character I in this case, is the character the function repeats. The second argument, determines how many times the function repeats the character I. The result is a simple chart of sorts, right in the sheet and it tells an interesting story—a story you can't get from the list :
- Bill is the highest seller and Kate is the lowest, but you already knew that.
- The sales for four of your employers are strong, but four are weak; half of your sales force isn't performing well.
- Even though Kate has the lowest sales, the sales for at least two others, Laurie and Alexis, are almost as weak as Kate's.
- Lilly's sales are almost as good as Bill's. You happen to know that she's new—with a little more experience and mentoring, she might go far.
Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.