Excel Hints & Tips - Florence Nightingale & Excel

In: BlogDate: Jan 23, 2013By: Darren Andrews

What on earth has Florence Nightingale got to do with Excel?

Florence Nightingale famously created a polar area diagram (a type of pie chart) in 1858 to show the cause of death in British military hospitals in the Crimean War. This highlighted the extent of preventable deaths (such as from typhus and cholera). The result was that the British government took action and commissioned Isambard Kingdom Brunel to design a new civilian hospital – reducing the death rate to just 1/10th of what it was before.

This important use of data visualisation shows how powerful charts (and especially pie charts) can be.

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But when should you use a pie chart?

Whether you are trying to fight for an important cause like Florence Nightingale, show where your website traffic comes from or just want to show your sales over the last year, pie charts can be really effective – big, bold and simple. But they can also be muddled, messy and confusing. What makes the difference is the data you are trying to chart. Not all data is suitable for all chart types and Pies are particularly vulnerable to having the wrong data used.

If we consider the table of data below that we have three rows of data organised into five columns. This data will not make a good pie chart!



If you try you might end up with a doughnut chart a bit like the one below… urgh!



Pie charts are better suited to one data series (a row or column of data), where you want to show in what proportions the data is divided.

Totals, or the rows or columns, give data that will be more appropriate to a good old Pie chart!


Excel can even add percentages!


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Darren Andrews

Darren is one of Happy's Senior Trainers, able to train almost every IT course on our course programme. He worked for Happy for 12 years and has been an Associate Trainer since 2018.

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