Infographics are a great way to grab the user’s attention and communicate key concepts. Why? Because they combine relevant information with graphic impact to increase retention and engagement. The data backs up this common sense claim: Investigation found that people retain 65% of the information they see, but only 10% of the information they hear, and spend 39% less time searching for the content they need when displayed in infographic format.
One of the most attractive uses of this functional format? Timeline charts. These date and data delivery vehicles offer a way to quickly communicate important information, from key dates in your company’s history to upcoming project milestones or anticipated market trends. Of course, it is one thing to see the value of timeline graphics and another to create attractive and effective images. In this article, we’ll tackle timeline tactics for familiar apps like Google Docs, Word, Excel, Google Sheets, and Powerpoint. 3 … 2 … 1 … let’s go!
What is a timeline chart?
While there is no single format for timeline charts, the most common layout uses four parts: Data Visual header description Each item in the timeline contains all four parts, and the items are arranged in left order to the right of the oldest events to the newest. This format offers simplicity of form and function: elements are easy to read and identify, and the “flow” of time is easy to detect. Let’s say you are creating a timeline of milestones in your corporate history using this framework. It might look like this: This (very basic) example was done in Google Docs and uses an arrow to indicate the passage of time. The dates above the line are combined with brief details below. Some timelines will include a heading, like a merge, with a longer description below. The amount of information worth including depends on the complexity of the topic at hand, who will be using the graphic, and its overall purpose. In this case, our graphic element is the line itself, but you can also insert relevant images of people or places associated with the event to increase user engagement. Another common graphical timeline format runs from top to bottom with earlier dates at the top of the page and later dates below. To maximize space, many of these top-to-bottom templates alternate information from left to right on the line.
How to make a timeline in Google Docs
So how do you make a timeline chart?
1. Create an image.
Go to “Insert”, then select “Drawing” and “+ New”. This will open a new window that looks like a chessboard.
2. Start drawing.
Select the “Line” button from the top menu and choose “Arrow.” Then draw a line on the screen. To make sure it’s straight, look to the left side; if you only see one line, it is level. If you see more than one, it is at an angle.
3. Enter your text.
Click the Text Box tool, represented as a T surrounded by a box, and create a box above or below your line to start adding details. You can copy and paste multiple boxes to ensure consistent size and spacing, or use a single giant text box. While the last option is faster to create (we used it), the natural left-to-right format of the box means that you are limited in how the information appears.
4. Save and close.
How to make a timeline in Word
Maybe you don’t like Google Docs, maybe your business uses Microsoft Office exclusively, or maybe you don’t like the idea of potentially shared timelines. Whatever the case, it is also possible to create a timeline chart in Word.
1. Insert SmartArt
Open a new Word document and go to the “Insert” tab, then select “SmartArt.”
2. Find your timeline.
In the new menu that appears, select “Process”. This will display a host of possible timeline graphical options, from individual large arrows to connected text boxes and linked circles. The simplest option is the “Basic Timeline”, which contains points embedded in a large transparent arrow.
3. Enter your details.
Use the text panel located on the left side to enter your timeline data. Pressing “Enter” creates a new entry in the timeline; If you need to add more information to a specific item on the timeline, press Shift + Enter to create a line break.
4. Personalize your timeline.
Customize the points and arrows on your timeline with shapes or colors to achieve the desired look. Word does not automatically calculate the time between events; as a result, all items on your timeline will be equidistant from each other. If you need to report a longer span of time, you can drag the events further manually, but this will eventually distort the graph.
How to make a timeline in Excel
If you like using Microsoft Office to create timelines but want to complicate things, try creating a timeline in Excel. While the finished product offers easily accessible data in a familiar format, the effort required is significantly more substantial.
1. Create a data table.
Create a three-column table in Excel that contains your timeline data. Use the first column for the dates and the second for the event titles. In the last column, enter a series of numbers; these numbers will determine the height of your timeline charts. You can set them all to the same height with the same number or different heights in a repeating pattern depending on your preference.
2. Insert a scatter plot.
Select “Insert” from Excel’s top menu, then “Charts,” then select a scatter chart.
3. Import your data.
Right-click on the chart that appears and choose “Select Data Source.” Select the “Add” button from the “Legend Entries (Series)” menu that appears. Click the small image of the spreadsheet that appears next to the “X Series Values” box, then choose the date column you created. Then select the small worksheet next to the “Y Series Values” box and choose the data in the height column of the timeline. Click “OK” and it will create a scatter plot with dates at the bottom and points at different heights.
4. Remove the grid lines, add error bars.
Select your chart and look for the “+” in the upper right to open the Chart Items menu. Uncheck “Chart Title” and “Grid Lines”, then check “Data Labels” and “Error Bars”
5. Connect the dots.
Go to the “Error bars” menu option and select “No line” for the X series error bars; this will remove the horizontal lines on either side of your data points. For Y series error bars, set the direction to “Minus” and the error amount to “100%”. This will create vertical lines between your dates and your data points.
6. Insert the titles of the events.
From the “Axis Format” menu, select “Series 1 Data Labels”, uncheck “Y Value” and select “Cell Value”. Then, click on the little spreadsheet icon. Select the title column for your event and then click “OK.” This should create a basic timeline with dates at the bottom and data points at different heights, each with a little description at the top. Optionally, you can add additional formatting and color options from the Data Series Format menu.
How to make a timeline in Google Sheets
The polar opposite of Excel, Google Sheets makes it easy to create a project schedule.
1. Create a new timeline.
Open Google Sheets and select the “Project Timeline” option.
Edit your timeline. Change any text boxes, add colors, and modify dates as needed. While customization is limited by the basic format of this Gantt chart, Google Sheets offers one of the easiest ways to create and share a timeline.
How to make a timeline in PowerPoint
Making a timeline in PowerPoint is almost identical to the process used in Word.
1. Select your design.
Go to the “Design” tab and select your theme.
2. Insert SmartArt.
Click “Insert”, then “SmartArt.”
3. Choose and fill in the graph for your timeline.
Select your preferred timeline and it will be created with three elements. Add text to items directly and use “Add Bullets” to add bullets below. Select “Add Shape” to additional sections of the timeline.
Timing is everything
Timeline graphs add convenient context to otherwise dry data points. From details about your company from inception to current interaction and in-depth project milestone markers, visual schedules in Google Docs or Sheets, or Microsoft Word, Excel, or PowerPoint offer a way to capture critical data while simultaneously increase viewer interest and reinforce information retention. .