Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Excel versions: 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Excel in Microsoft 365. If you are using an earlier version (Excel 2003 or earlier), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for earlier versions of Excel, click here: Controlling the Plotting of Empty Cells.

Controlling the Plotting of Empty Cells

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated December 19, 2020)
This tip applies to Excel 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Excel in Microsoft 365


When you create a chart from a data table, Excel does its best to translate the numeric values into data points on a chart, according to the specifications you provide. One area where Excel doesn't quite know what to do, however, is empty cells. If a cell is empty, it could be for any number of reasons—the value isn't available, the value isn't important, or the value is really zero.

You can instruct the program how you want it to treat empty cells by following these steps:

  1. Select the chart you want to affect.
  2. Display the Chart Design tab of the ribbon.
  3. In the Data group click the Select Data tool. Excel displays the Select Data Source dialog box. (See Figure 1.)
  4. Figure 1. The Select Data Source dialog box.

  5. Click the Hidden and Empty Cells button. Excel displays the Hidden and Empty Cell Settings dialog box. (See Figure 2.)
  6. Figure 2. The Hidden and Empty Cell Settings dialog box.

  7. Using the controls in the dialog box, specify how you want Excel to chart empty cells.
  8. Click OK to close the Hidden and Empty Cell Settings dialog box.
  9. Click OK to close the Select Data Source dialog box.

The option buttons at the top of the Hidden and Empty Cell Settings dialog box (step 5) provide the following three settings:

  • Gaps. Excel leaves gaps in the chart where the empty cells appear.
  • Zero. Excel treats the empty cells as if they contained zero values, and plots accordingly.
  • Connect Data Points with Line. Excel examines the values surrounding the empty cell, guesses what the cell value should have been, and then connects the data points with a line.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (6289) applies to Microsoft Excel 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Excel in Microsoft 365. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Excel here: Controlling the Plotting of Empty Cells.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...

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