Adding Error Bars to Charts in Excel 2013

Excel 2013 makes it easier than ever to create error bars. Hooray! This post shows you how to add them to your charts. The spreadsheet with the chart and backing formulas can be downloaded here [link]. If you are looking for a more detailed reference, I recommend Excel Charts by John Walkenbach. I also recommend this excellent post by Peltier Tech.

Let’s get started. I created a simple bar chart from a table representing promotional response to advertising on three products in twenty major US markets. (Actually, it’s just a 20×3 table with =RAND()*RAND().) Here’s the chart:

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When you create a chart in Excel 2013, three buttons appear just above the upper-right hand corner. Click on the “plus” button to add new chart elements – check “Error Bars” and error bars will magically appear on your chart.

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A task pane opens on the right side of the screen. This pane lets you customize the range and formatting of the error bars. Click on one of the error bars, and then on the “bars” icon in the task pane to see range options:

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Usually I want to supply my own values for the top and bottom based on formulas. Suppose I want to display 95% confidence intervals using the series data.

First I need to compute standard deviations for each series using STDEV.P:

=STDEV.P(A2:A21)

Then compute the 95% confidence value using CONFIDENCE.NORM:

=CONFIDENCE.NORM(0.05,F3,COUNT(A2:A21))

Row 4 has the 95% confidence values for each of the three series. I’d like to base my error bars on these values. Click on Custom. Clicking on the “Specify Value” button brings up a dialog box:

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The “Positive Error Value” range selector lets me enter in a constant value or more interestingly, cell range that defines the top of the error bars, as an offset from the bar. Similarly, “Negative Error Value” defines the bottom of the error bars. Again, these are offsets, not absolute values. Therefore I want to use F4:H4 for both. Select those ranges, click OK and voila: a nice looking chart with error bars.

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If I change the values in columns F-H, the error bars change too. The other Error Amount choices in the Error Bar task pane are simpler. For example, Standard Deviation means that the top and bottom will be one standard deviation from the mean across all series:

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“Fixed value” and “Percentage” are obvious. “Standard Error” computes the top and bottom using the standard error of the corresponding series. The documentation describes the formulas used by Excel.

This feature was not widely advertised in the Excel 2013 release, but it’s really useful. Charts just look better, too. All in all, some nice improvements!

Author: natebrix

Follow me on twitter at @natebrix.

15 thoughts on “Adding Error Bars to Charts in Excel 2013”

  1. Nice article. But you make it sound like Excel 2013 finally has support for error bars. In fact, Excel has had error bar support since Excel 97, if not earlier.

  2. Excel 2013 actually really complicated it more not made it easier. If you have a data set with different series it is terrible to add error bars. It keeps putting the same error for each bar in a series, very frustrating!

    1. Absolutely. If you have many graphs, you will become crazy clicking 100 of times just to get error bars for one graph, and then you have to repeat procedure many time.

  3. I’m having issues adding the error bars to any column graph that I create. The option is not available (dims, not selectable). Any idea why? Anyone else encounter this problem?

  4. The way error bars (std error of mean) are now made is more difficult. Like all the new features I have found in Excel 2013. They should include older Excel versions for Office packages.

  5. I’m having an absolute nightmare with the new error bars trying to enter custom values. It could at least default to assuming you want same value for upper and lower. It is hard to avoid entering any cell value you click on and you end up with garbage in the custom box.
    For a scatterplot you automatically get both horizontal and vertical error bars. If you only want vertical, need to set fixed value to zero.
    I have three series on my graph. Got the first 2 working ok eventually but I put everything in for 3rd series and it just doesn’t add any.
    Oh, and heaven help you if, having carefully got it to work you inadvertently unclick the error bar checkbox before saving; you lose everything.

  6. If you only want horizontal or vertical error bars on an XY Scatter chart, select the ones you don’t need, and click Delete.

    When entering anything in the custom boxes, you should clear the “={1}” first. Otherwise, you end up with some gibberish like “={1}+Sheet1!$A$1:$A$5”. And if you want no error bars in one direction, you can’t just clear the box, because anything you entered successfully in the other box will be discarded. Just enter a zero.

    They’ve made the custom values dialog much harder to use and much less reliable than it should be.

  7. I am having trouble with this too. I was easily able to add the error bars BUT the error bar on my right-most bar doesn’t appear. I’ve double checked the value and its large enough that it should be easily visible. If I choose standard error, it appears but when I choose custom and highlight the cells that have the error value, the error bars show up on all of my histogram bars except for the one on the far right. Has anyone else encountered this?

    1. Does the number of cells of the range containing custom error bars equal the number of points in the plotted series, including points that may not show because they have no value?

  8. Hello,
    Does anyone know how to add Horizontal & Vertical Error Bars to lines in a chart or Scatter XY with straight lines? I do not want to use Scatter XY dots only.
    I have no problem to add V & H Err. Bars to Scatter XY dots; but when changing the Chart type to lines or Scatter with lines, the Horizontal Error Bar dissapeared automatically. How to show it again?
    I just need to add V & H Error Bars to line chart and Scatter XY connected with lines. I’m using Office 2016.
    Many thanks for any help.

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