Sparklines: it’s all a matter of scale!

UPDATE 27th July 2014

If you have ever studied finance you might well have heard of William Beaver and his bankruptcy prediction work from the 1960s. During a seminar session this week I demonstrated the Beaver model with its six ratios and the classic charts that have probably gone round the globe hundreds of millions of times.

As part of the presentation I wanted to show my audience how to use sparklines to emulate Beaver’s charts. Look at what follows … notice the raw sparklines then look at the sparklines with one small tweak to appreciate how useful these deceptively simple graphics can be; but first, the original charts from Beaver together with my analysis of Marks and Spencer’s financial results from 2004 – 2006:

Beaver’s Charts

Source: page 8

Basic Data and Sparklines 

Yes, the sparklines are fine and yes they show the trends inherent in the data. However, just look at this now:

Basic Data and Tweaked Sparklines

Just by increasing the height of the rows that contain the sparklines, we can see the same effect that Beaver demonstrates in his original charts. Simple and very effective:

I hope you agree with what I have said and done and can enhance your own data communication examples with such ideas: it’s all a matter of scale!


I don’t always learn the far end of everything when I learn a technique in Excel. sparklines are a case in point. I know slicers quite well and can use them very effectively. I demonstrate slicers a few times a year to my training course audiences. This week, however, a delegate asked me: the sparklines follow the range of data on which it is based, for example, 2008 – 2013; is it possible to make the sparklines read from right to left and show it as 2013 – 2008 rather than 2008 – 2013?

I admitted, as I always do when I don’t know something that I didn’t know! However, I always say that I will find out … because if I can’t find the answer, I know a man who does!

The answer is simple:

  • select a Sparkline
  • in the Sparkline Tools tab, Design click on the Axis down arrow
  • click Plot data right to left …
  • unclick Plot data right to left to reverse your choice!