Let's face it; although it does its job admirably, your average Excel worksheet is a thing of little beauty. There are, however, many ways that you can transform your worksheet from rows and columns of data into charts with custom colours and special effects, such as drop shadows around text boxes. To create such a document is really very simple, but the transformation is remarkable.

There are many people who use Excel on a regular basis, but who rarely take advantage of the chart function. This is a waste, as adding a chart or graph to your worksheet can make a presentation far more eye-catching, and thus less boring than a page full of number-filled cells. It is the electronic equivalent of transforming a neatly segmented but dull caterpillar into a bold colourful butterfly. Charts enable us to see at-a-glance comparisons or trends, and there is very little effort needed to create one as it simply converts worksheet data the operator already has available.

A chart can be used as a stand-alone page with its own name, or it can be embedded into a worksheet, something that is particularly useful when more than one chart is being shown. Excel will automatically embed the chart in the worksheet that is active, and it will be modified every time the related data is updated. Click on Insert/Chart and let the Chart Wizard do the rest; it is simplicity itself.

However, before taking off and adding charts to all of your Excel documents, it is worth looking at the different types of chart Excel can create, and which you should use to present your particular figures, as different charts are best suited to certain types of data.

For example, if you want to show how the pub's takings have fluctuated on a month-by-month basis over the year, then a bar graph would do the job admirably, but if you want to see the comparative sales percentages of your range of meat-filled pastries, then you should opt for a pie chart.

The list of different charts available is surprisingly long, and it contains such oddities as doughnut, radar and bubble charts. However, those lower down the list are generally more specialised than the top four of column, bar, line and pie, which can be roughly described as follows:

Column: These are what we all compiled at school on graph paper, with vertical values offering at-a-glance comparisons.

Bar: These are the same as column charts, but with the values being horizontal.

Line: Markers are placed at each value and then the dots are joined to make that familiar zigzag pattern we see on the records of hospital patients and suchlike.

Pie: A circular graph that is divided into slices to show percentage values. These can be 'exploded' to emphasise individual values, while maintaining the overall shape of the graph.

Having created a chart that is best suited for your particular needs, it is now possible to change the colours of the chart to suit your own preferences. This is a very simple operation, with slightly different instructions for pre-2007 versions of Excel. However the first stages are the same for both. The example I am giving is for a bar chart.

For pre-2007 versions of Excel:
- Select the chart on which you wish to change the colours.
- Click on the bars themselves. You will see that the bars are all selected.
- If you wish to change all of the bars to the same colour, then keep that selection. If, however, you want each of the bars to be a different colour, then click again on an individual bar and you will see that only that one is selected.
- Right click on the highlighted bar and from the Context menu that appears select Format Data Point.
- In the Patterns section, choose a colour from the selection available in the Area section on the right side of the dialog box.
- Click OK.

For Excel 2007 users:
- Select the chart on which you wish to change the colours.
- Click on the bars themselves. You will see that the bars are all selected.
- Right click on your selected bar to reveal the Context menu. Select Format Data Point.
- Click Fill in the dialog box.
- Click the Solid Fill button if that is what you want - otherwise try some others.
- Select your chosen colour from the drop-down list.
- Click OK.

Finally, if you have added any text boxes to your chart, you can make them stand out by adding drop shadows to them. Again, the instructions are different for pre-2007 versions of Excel

To add drop shadows in pre-2007 versions, first make sure that you have the drawing toolbar open (View/Toolbars/Drawing). Then:
- Select the text box onto which you want to apply the drop shadow.
- Click on the Shadow button on the Drawing toolbar. A palette will appear showing the various shadow effects you can apply.
- Click on these different effects to experiment until you find one that you like. When you have chosen one, simply click away from the text box to deselect it.

In Excel 2007 there is no Drawing toolbar, but the same results can be achieved by following these instructions:
- Select the text box as above. This will activate the Format tab on the ribbon - click this.
- In the Shape Styles group, select Shape Effects. A list of effects will appear.
- Click on the Shadow option and a palette will appear as above.
- Choose your preferred shadow effect and deselect the text box.

As you can see, a few simple commands can transform your worksheet from a set of figures into a colourful customized chart with special effects. There are far more complex modifications that can be made to charts in Excel, all of which can be learned on an Excel training course.