Creating Sparklines in MS Word

A few years back I’ve prepared a step-by-step guide to creating sparklines in SPSS and MS Word. I’ve come up with the idea long before learning about what is today widely known as sparklines from Edward Tufte (writing a physics lab report in high school). After a recent comment by a colleague (“you can do that in Word?”), I’ve decided to put this tutorial online.

The general principle applies to any software package to create the original graphs, including MS Excel.

Step 1: write some interesting text.

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Step 2: create the basic graph you wish to use as a sparkline in the statistical package (here I used SPSS).

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Step 3: Edit the output to remove colours and unnecessary chart clutter inside the chart area (here case numbers of outliers), set background to white or transparent. In SPSS double click the output to edit the graph. Don’t worry about the scales and labels.

Remove data labels:
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Remove colour and grey background:
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If necessary, you may want to add your own labels. Given that the sparklines will be tiny, there is no space beyond one or two letters. In SPSS you can add a simple text box. Set the font size to 24 points or larger. Make sure there is enough white space around the label, and choose a suitable place in the graph.

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Here I have added labels for all categories. Sparklines should be immediately understandable, so if you need complicated labels (or indeed depend on labels to communicate the message), rethink your approach!

Step 4: Once the graph is ready, simply copy from the statistical package…

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Step 5: … and paste in MS Word. Don’t worry about the initially large size.

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Step 6: Using the picture toolbar (should automatically appear when you click on the picture), we first remove unnecessary labels and axes. The role of sparklines is different from full-sized graphs, so these aspects only distract from the message we want to communicate. Choose the crop tool to remove the bits not necessary.

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Step 7: You should end up with the graph alone.

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Step 8: Click next to the picture to deselect the crop tool, and then double click the graph to see its properties. Choose the size tab, and enter a reasonable height. Assuming that your text is written in 12 points, choose 12 points as the height (write 12 pt). Word will automatically set the required width when you click OK.

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We’re done:

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In the same way many different kinds of graphs can be turned into sparklines inside the text.

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The benefit of this method is that the graphs will print nicely. If labels are added, they may be too small to read on screen, but once printed they are usually legible.

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