Infographics are a great way to grab users’ attention and communicate key concepts. Why? Because they combine relevant information with graphic impact to increase loyalty and engagement.
Data supports this common sense claim: Research has shown that people retain 65% of the information they see – but only 10% of the information they hear – and spend 39% less time looking for the content that they see need them when viewed in infographic format.
One of the most compelling applications for this functional format? Timeline graphics. These date and data delivery vehicles offer a way to communicate important information quickly – from important dates in the company’s history to upcoming project milestones or forecast market trends.
Of course, it’s one thing to see the value in timeline graphics and another to create attractive and effective graphics. In this article, we’re going to look at timeline tactics for familiar applications like Google Docs, Word, Excel, Google Sheets, and Powerpoint.
3 … 2 … 1 … let’s go!
What is a timeline graph?
While there is no single format for timeline graphics, the most common composition consists of four parts:
Each timeline element contains all four parts, and the elements are then arranged in order from left to right of oldest to newest events. This format is simple in form and function – elements are easy to read and identify, and the “flow” of time is easy to see.
For example, let’s say you use this framework to create a timeline of key events in your company’s history. It could look something like this:
This (very simple) example was made in Google Docs and uses an arrow to indicate the passage of time. Data above the line is paired with brief details below. Some schedules contain both a header – such as B. the merger – with a longer description below. How much information is worth including depends on the complexity of the subject, how the chart is used, and its general purpose. In this case, our graphic element is the line itself. However, you can also include relevant images of people or places associated with the event to increase user interaction.
Another common graphical timeline format runs top-down, with earlier dates at the top of the page and later dates at the bottom. To maximize storage space, many of these templates alternate information on the left and right from top to bottom.
How to make a timeline in Google Docs
How do you make a timeline graphic?
1. Create an image.
Go to “Insert” and select “Draw” and “+ New”. This will open a new window that looks like a chessboard.
2. Start drawing.
Choose the “Line” button from the top menu and choose “Arrow”. Then draw a line across the screen. To make sure it’s straight, look to the left. If you only see one line, it is level. If you see more than one, it’s weird.
3. Enter your text.
Click the Text Box Tool – shown as a T surrounded by a box – and create a box above or below your line to add detail. You can either copy and paste multiple fields to ensure consistent size and spacing, or use a single, huge text field. While the latter option is faster to create (we used it), the natural left-to-right format of the box means you can only view limited information.
4. Save and close.
When you have entered all of your timeline information, click Save & Close. The picture will automatically be added to your Google Doc.
How to create a timeline in Word
You might not like Google Docs, your company might be Microsoft Office-only, or you might not like the idea of potentially shared timelines. In any case, it is also possible to create a timeline graphic in Word.
1. Insert SmartArt
Open a new Word document, switch to the “Insert” tab and select “SmartArt”.
2. Find your timeline.
Select the “Process” option in the new menu. This will reveal numerous potential options for the timeline graphic, from single large arrows to linked text boxes to linked circles. The simplest option is the “base timeline,” which contains points that are embedded in a large, transparent arrow.
3. Enter your details.
Use the text area on the left to enter your timeline data. Pressing Enter will create a new timeline entry. If you want to add more information to a specific timeline item, press Shift + Enter to create a line break.
4. Customize your timeline.
Customize your timeline points and arrows with shapes or colors to get the look you want.
Word does not automatically calculate the time between events. As a result, everything on your timeline is equidistant from one another. If you need to communicate for a longer period of time, you can manually pull events further apart, but this may distort the graph.
How to create a timeline in Excel
If you enjoy using Microsoft Office to create timelines, but want to make it difficult for yourself, create an Excel timeline. While the finished product offers easily accessible data in a familiar format, the effort is significantly higher.
1. Create a data table.
Create a three column table in Excel that contains your schedule data. Use the first column for dates and the second for event titles. Enter a series of numbers in the last column. These numbers determine the height of your timeline graphs. 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.
From the top Excel menu, choose Insert, then Charts, and then a scatter plot.
3. Import your data.
Right-click the chart that appears and choose Select Data Source. In the “Legend Entries (Series)” menu that appears, select the “Add” button. Click the small spreadsheet that appears next to the “Series X Values” box, then select the column that contains the data you created.
Then select the small table next to the “Series Y-Values” field and select the data in your column for the height of the timeline. Click OK and you’ll create a scatter plot with dates at the bottom and points at different heights.
4. Eliminate grid lines and add error bars.
Select your chart and find the “+” in the top right to bring up the Chart Items menu. Turn off Chart Titles and Gridlines, then turn on Data Labels and Error Bars.
5. Connect the dots.
Go to the Error Bars menu option and select No Line for your X-Series Error Bars. This will remove the horizontal lines on either side of your data points. For your Y series error bars, set the direction to “minus” and the amount of error to “100%”. This creates vertical lines between your data and your data points.
6. Insert event titles.
From the Format Axis menu, choose Series 1 Data Labels, deselect Y Value, and choose Value From Cells. Then click on the little spreadsheet icon. Select the column with the event titles and click OK.
This was intended to create a basic timeline with dates at the bottom and data points at different heights, each with a small description. If desired, you can add additional formatting and color options from the Format Data Series menu.
How to make a timeline in Google Sheets
Google Sheets is the complete opposite of Excel and makes it easy to create project schedules.
1. Create a new timeline.
Open Google Sheets and select the “Project Timeline” option.
Edit your timeline. Modify any text box, add colors, and change the 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
Creating a timeline in PowerPoint is almost identical to the process used in Word.
1. Choose your design.
Go to the “Design” tab and choose your theme.
2. Insert SmartArt.
Click Insert, then click SmartArt.
3. Select and fill in your timeline graphic.
Select the timeline you want and it will be created with three elements. Add text to the items directly and use “Add Bullets” to add the following bullets. Choose “Add Shape” to additional timeline sections.
Timing is everything
Timeline graphs add convenient context to otherwise dry data points. From details about your company from its founding to the current interaction to detailed project milestone markings, visual timelines in Google Docs or Microsoft Word, Excel or PowerPoint offer a way to capture important data while increasing audience interest and information storage to strengthen.