How To Add a Chart and Edit the Legend in Google Sheets

Spreadsheets are amazingly powerful tools for creating, storing, manipulating, and analyzing numeric information. However, not everyone can look at a column of numbers and gain insight into the underlying process or information that those numbers are abstracted from. For that reason, spreadsheet programs, including Google Sheets, have included graphical charting functions almost from their very earliest incarnations back in the Lotus 1-2-3 days, even though technically charts have little to do with a spreadsheet’s core functionality of analyzing information.

Google Sheets, Google’s free cloud-based spreadsheet solution, also includes charting components which are simple to use but quite powerful. In this tutorial article, I will show you how to add charts to your Google Sheets, how to edit the legend that Google Sheets assigns to your charts, and how to edit some other chart features.

Working with charts is relatively simple. You just need to have a set of data to refer to, design a chart in the built-in charting tool within Sheets, set the legend so it is easily understandable, and insert it into the spreadsheet. You can create your own data to follow this tutorial, or you can create a new sheet and use the data I use for my examples. For the example chart, we’ll use a simple little sheet with a list of a household’s expense category, and the monthly budget for each expense. Create a sheet with two headings, “Expense” and “Monthly”, and add the following information to the sheet:

Adding a chart to Google Sheets

To create a chart, we first need to specify a data set for the chart to be based on. We begin by selecting a data range and working from there. In the example in the images, the data range is A1 to B7, or ‘A1:B7’ in spreadsheet notation.

  1. Open the sheet you want to create a chart within.
  2. Identify the data range you want to use and highlight it within the sheet.
  3. Select Insert from the top menu and Chart. The chart editor will open up on the right side of your screen, and the chart will appear in the sheet.
  4. The first line of the chart editor is titled “Chart type”. Select a chart type from the dropdown. Sheets will suggest a few chart types that are suited for the type of data you’ve provided, but you can choose whatever type you wish.
  5. You can customize the data elements used in the chart; these controls appear below the Chart type selection.
  6. Select the Customize tab in the chart editor to see the formatting controls. Play with these to learn how to modify your chart. The chart will change as you make changes in the dialog.
  7. When you have finished modifying the chart, click the X in the upper right of the chart editor to control it.
  8. Drag the chart to where you want it in your Sheet.

Deciding what chart type to use

Different chart types lend themselves well to displaying different data types. Not all chart types will work with all data, so it may be a case of experimenting as you go along. The chart editor has a suggestions section which indicates the chart type that the software thinks would be appropriate, and you can start from there if you really don’t know what kind of chart to deploy.

Each type of standard chart has an associated type of information that it is best-suited for displaying, depending on what the visualization is intended to accomplish. For example, in the case of our monthly household expenses, a pie chart is a very powerful way to demonstrate that our mortgage payment is dominating our monthly expenses because it makes that visual element very large on the sheet.

Edit the chart legend in Google Sheets

Once you’ve created a chart, it’s likely that you’ll want to change the legend. The chart legend is the colored box and text that tells the reader what each color on the chart represents. On the current chart, it is labeled “Monthly”. Google Sheets does its best to figure out a label by default, but it often ends up being something helpful like “Monthly” – technically accurate, but not very illuminating to anyone looking at the chart.

Editing the chart legend in Google Sheets is done from within the chart creation window or from within the sheet. Once you’ve created your chart, you can bring back the chart editor by right-clicking anywhere on the chart itself and selecting any menu item; this will open the chart editor and take you to the specific editing area. You can edit the legend in a number of ways. You can change whether it displays at all (in many charts it simply isn’t needed), or specify its position within the chart. You can also change the font, font size, formatting, and text color of the legend.

  1. Right click the chart and select ‘Legend’.
  2. Modify the side it is displayed, the font type, size and color as you see fit.
  3. The chart will update as you make changes within the editor.

Changing the legend text in Google Sheets

One feature that many users wish they could have is the ability to change the text displayed for the legend. On our example sheet, for example, the legend “Monthly” isn’t really all that useful or descriptive. The only way to change the legend text is to rename the data column, and the legend will also change. For example, we could replace the “Monthly” text in column A2 with “June 2018”, or “Estimated Monthly Amount”, and then our chart would show that text instead, which would be more useful. So this works, and the only time it’s problematic is if you want the spreadsheet row or column to have a different label than that displayed on the chart.

Editing other chart elements

There are many chart elements that you can edit within Google Sheets. The easiest way to access chart settings is to right-click within the chart to pull up the chart editing context menu.

Under “Chart area” you can choose between resizing the chart area (which lets you increase or decrease the size of the chart display within the chart frame) or fitting the chart area to the available chart frame. (You can change the chart frame by clicking anywhere within the chart, then clicking and dragging on the resizing frame.)

Most of the elements on the context menu just take you to the appropriate section of the Chart Editor, but it’s a very useful shortcut for the commonly selected tasks. Using the context menu, you can change the chart style, change the chart and axis titles and subtitles, choose which data series the chart displays, change the legend, change the labels on the X and Y axis, set the gridlines, or reset the data range the chart draws from.

You might also be interested in checking out this TechJunkie article on how to build graphs in Google Sheets.

Got any Google Sheets chart tips you would like to share? Tell us about them below!

7 thoughts on “How To Add a Chart and Edit the Legend in Google Sheets”

Colorfulsocks says:
So another thing that can be frustrating, is that the labels, to be ‘read’ by the chart must be on the left and top of the table, for your x & y axis. Fortunately there’s cut, paste special, paste transposed – great for flipping datasets around.
Ugetwhat Upay4 says:
Thank guys, now I understand its not only me with this problem. A slight programming design error that Google has had over a year to fix? I wasted many hours looking for the function. Thanks google!
Temporary Solution: screen shoot the legend and paste it as an image.
Final solution; For any real editing its better to return to Excel.
Jack says:
This method must be out dated. It doesn’t work and isn’t helpful. There is no “add text” option to the legend in google sheets currently
Adam says:
The only way to do it that I was able to figure out is to change all of your “Series” AND “X-Axis” data ranges to include the row above your data. Then you will have an option below where you create those to check a check box that will say something like “Use row 1 as headers”. This will make that value in the first row cell your legend titles. It might not be ideal in all cases, but you can hopefully make it work. I’d rather make changes as necessary so that I’m not stuck with “Series 1, Series 2, Series 3…” for your legend titles. Hope that helps.
Jeremy says:
This was very helpful, thank you!
Jacobus says:
It is very restrictive to not be able to edit the data series legend. I strongly suggest this be included in any future upgrade to functionality.
H says:
How do you do this in the app???
Helpful Neighbor says:
I found a dirty cheat that may work for you, that takes very little time. I ended up adding a text box into the spreadsheet and placing it on top of my chart, right next to the legend.
1. Click on an empty cell somewhere near your chart.
2. Click on “Insert” in the top menu
3. Select “Drawing”
4. Click on the icon with the letter T in a box, for a text box
5. List the labels for each one in the relative orientation that you need it to be displayed in your graph. This may require a few adjustments with font size and colors, so that it will visually correspond with your data sets.
6. Select “Save and Close” and the text box will appear in your spreadsheet.
7. Now, you can drag it anywhere you need it to go. If you drag it on top of the area in your chart, it will remain there. If you close the spreadsheet and continue working on it later, the text box may not be in the same spot, but you can retrieve it by clicking on the cell that you originally selected for the creation of the drawing. Then, you can place it back where it needs to go.

I’m still tinkering with the program in order to figure out a way to lock it in place. I may return with an update for that later.
Good Luck!

merrill Ballinger says:
Thank you soooo much! I was about to pull all my hair and this worked beautifully!
Pablo Martinez says:
I’ve created a bar graph where I have 2 bars for each day of the week. Although I can see the legend, I cannot name it
Rosita Hernandez says:

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