Update 14 March 2020: See LinEstGap with non-linear functions for the latest version of Linest-Poly with new functions for non-linear curves allowing more convenient input and work with data with gaps errors, and/or hidden lines.
Update 28 June 2015: Also see Using Linest for non-linear curve fitting examples, hints, and warnings for more examples of fitting exponential and polynomial curves using LinEst.
A frequent question on internet forums everywhere is how to do a least squares fit of a non-linear trend line to a set of data. The most frequent answer is to plot the data on an XY (“scatter”) chart, and then use the “Fit Trendline” option, with the “display equation on chart” box checked. The chart trendlines have the options of: Linear, Exponential, Logarithmic, Polynomial (up to order 6), and Power. There is also a “Moving Average” option, but this does not provide a trendline equation. The chart trendline solution is OK if what you want to do is display the trendline equation on a chart, but if you want to use the numbers in some further analysis, or even just display them elsewhere in the spreadsheet, or copy them to another document, it is far from convenient. Fortunately it is straightforward to get the trendline equations (and other statistics) for each of the chart trendline types using the LINEST worksheet function.
I have created a spreadsheet with examples of each trendline type, which may be downloaded here:
The functions used for linear and polynomial trendlines are shown in the screenshot below (click image for full size view):
- The functions as displayed use named ranges (X_1 to X_3 and Y_1 to Y_3)
- The functions are entered as array functions to display all the return values; i.e. enter the function in a cell, select that cell and sufficient adjacent cells to display all the required values, press F2, press Ctrl-Shift-Enter.
- Alternatively the INDEX function may be used to return specific values; e.g. to return the b value from the linear example use =INDEX(LINEST(Y_1, X_1),2)
- Higher order polynomial functions may be returned by simply adding to the list of powers in the curly brackets (but note that this is often not a good idea because of “over-fitting“)
Functions for exponential, power, and logarithmic trendlines are shown below:
In this case the process is not quite so straightforward, because in most cases one or both of the values returned by the function must be modified to give the values shown in the chart trend lines. For these lines it is possible to use either the LINEST function, or the LOGEST function, but since LOGEST simply calls LINEST internally, and provides little if any extra convenience, it does not seem to provide much value. In these examples note that:
- Equations are in the form: y = a.e^bx (exponential), y = a.x^b (power) or y = b.ln(x) + a (logarithmic). In each case in the examples the power factor (b) is shown in bold, and the constant term (a) is shown in bold and italic.
- The LOGEST function returns an equation of the form y = a.b^x
- The LINEST function will return exactly the same values if entered as =EXP(LINEST(LN(Yrange), XRange)), and this line is equivalent to the y = a.e^bx line returned by the chart.
Update 27 Jan 2011:
Coincidentally, Chandoo at Pointy Haired Dilbert is also running a series on estimating trend lines in Excel, which is well worth a look at: Are You Trendy