I am trying to create a simple scatter plot with numbers (between 0 and 6) on the vertical axis, and dates (in mm/dd/yyyy format) on the horizontal axis, with a data point for each day from 08/01/2007 to 03/31/2008.

Here is what it my chart looks like:

My chart

As you can see, the horizontal axis begins with 6/17/2007 and ends with 6/1/2008 even though I am only providing data for 08/01/2007 to 03/31/2008. Additionally, the minimum and maximum bounds are set at 39250.0 and 39600.0 respectively for whatever reason.

How do I make this a chart that is actually displayed logically (ie not displaying dates in which I have no data for and being able to display logical tick marks (like the first of every month)?


Excel stores dates internally as whole numbers, times as decimals. The numbers you see are not random, but are the internally stored values for dates.

In a chart that supports a time/date x axis you will be able to set the minimum and maximum bounds by selecting a date, and you can set the major units to months. That is an option in line charts and column charts, for example.

XY Scatter charts don't have an option for a date axis and the minimum and maximum setting for the axis always show the underlying number of a date instead of the formatted date. That is independent of the number formatting you use to show the X axis labels.

Once you have worked out what date you want as the minimum date, enter it into a cell on a spreadsheet, then change the cell format to General. Now you can see which number you need to enter in the Minimum box. Rinse and repeat for the Maximum.

Unfortunately, the minimum and maximum cannot be linked to a cell (but you can add your vote here to have that feature added to Excel).

Also, in the Scatter chart there is no setting to increment major or minor units by one month. If you want the X axis labels to show the first of the month, you'll need to add a helper series with the dates on the X axis and zeroes as the Y values. Then hide the axis labels and add data labels for the helper series. Finally, hide the line and markers for the helper series.


Just right-click on the axis and select Format axis...

Then you can directly control the axis:

enter image description here

  • 1
    I understand how to get to those, but I don't get how to convert from these seemingly random numbers in the tens of thousands to the dates that are being displayed. Why are the bounds 39250.0 and 39600.0 rather than 8/1/2007 and 3/31/2008? Or, if they are arbitrary, why not something simple like 0 and 100? – user1953907 Sep 18 '16 at 21:04
  • @user1953907, Excel stores dates and times in units of days. Dates are the number of days since the reference date January 0, 1900, and times are decimal fractions of a day. 6/17/2007 is the 39,250th day since 1/0/1900. If the value ended with .5 instead of .0, that would be half a day into that date, or noon. You get the unusual dates, like 6/17, because the automated axis scaling function likes to pick "nice to look at" numbers that are multiples of units like hundreds or fifties, and bases it on the stored value, not the displayed format. – fixer1234 Sep 19 '16 at 1:38

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