Basic Formatting Tips for Excel

Let’s face it, spreadsheets look boring, rows and rows of numbers and text. However, with a little bit of formatting, we can improve things drastically.

In this blog post, I’m going to introduce you to some of the basic formatting features in Excel that can make your spreadsheets look a little bit more interesting. Adding formatting to your spreadsheet not only makes them more interesting to look at but also makes them easier to read and understand.

Accessing Formatting Options

Like nearly all Excel features there are numerous ways to access the formatting features. We’ll stick to two basic methods in this blog post, either clicking the relevant commands on the Ribbon, or, right clicking the Cell(s) and using the pop-up menu and clicking Format Cells.

Right Click Menu Excel Format Cell

Right Click Menu Excel Format Cell

Fonts

Ok, let’s get started with Fonts. Excel like its Office counterpart Word provides numerous font options. Of course, you can choose different types of Fonts by selecting the Font drop-down menu.

Excel Ribbon Font Options

Excel Ribbon Font Options

You can also change the size of the Font, make it bold, add underlining or make your text italic.

Personally, I’m not a fan of underlined or italic text in an Excel spreadsheet, but that’s a matter of personal choice. I would suggest keeping it simple, use no more than two different types of Font. One type for headings and another for spreadsheet content.

You can also access the Font Options tab from the Format Cells menu as shown in the image below.

Excel Format Cells Menu Font Options Tab

Excel Format Cells Menu Font Options Tab

Alignment

Cell alignment can be used to great effect. Cell alignment is concerned with aligning the cell content (text, numbers, etc) relative to the cell. There are two basic types of Cell alignment, horizontal and vertical.

Excel Horizontal Alignment Options

Excel Horizontal Alignment Options

Unsurprisingly horizontal alignment allows you to align your text to the left-hand-side, center and right-hand-side of the cell.

Excel Vertical Alignment Options

Excel Vertical Alignment Options

While low and behold, vertical alignment allows you to align your text to the top, center or bottom. Depending on which version of Excel you’re using there are other alignment options. However, the three options for horizontal and vertical alignment should cover what you need to be getting started with.

Both of these types of alignment can be accessed either by buttons on the Ribbon or by right clicking, selecting cell formatting then clicking the Alignment Tab.

Excel Format Cells Text Alignment Tab

Excel Format Cells Text Alignment Tab

Personally, I use two default types of alignment formatting.

  1. Headings – Vertically aligned to the Top and Horizontally aligned to the center.
  2. Other cell content – Vertically aligned to the Bottom and Horizontally aligned to the left. The one exception to the rule is currency, which I align to the right.

The above alignment formatting options are obviously personal preference, but the key is to be consistent.

Colors

Cell background and cell content (Font) colors can both be formatted. Again formatting options can be accessed from both the Ribbon or by right clicking and selecting cell formatting. However, when right clicking and selecting cell formatting the Font color is access on the Font Tab and the Cell background color is accessed on the Fill Tab.

Format Cells Colors

Format Cells Colors

Changing color is as simple as selecting a color from the drop-down menu.

Excel Font Color Drop-Down Menu

Excel Font Color Drop-Down Menu

Borders

Perhaps the best way to make your spreadsheet more readable is to use borders. Borders, allow you to group regions of related cells and place borders around them.

There are a few different options when placing borders around cells. Firstly, there is a quick and simple method of just highlighting the Cell(s) you’re interested in and clicking one of the buttons from the border drop-down menu.

Excel BordersDrop-Down Menu

Excel BordersDrop-Down Menu

 

The border drop-down menu allows you to add a border to the left, right, top, bottom of a cell and so on.

For slightly more interesting borders, you can select the More Borders options from the border drop-down menu, or, the Borders Tab from the Format Cells menu. This menu allows you to alter the thickness of the border, the color of the border and the type of border, for example, dotted line, double line, etc.

Excel Format Cells Borders Tab

Excel Format Cells Borders Tab

Format as Table

The Format as Table command allows the user to highlight a selection of Cells and apply formatting that can incorporate several elements of formatting already discussed in this post. Excel comes with several built-in Format as Table options, plus the user can create new ones as well.

Excel Format As Table

Excel Format As Table

This option can only be accessed from the Ribbon.

It’s worth pointing out that to make the best use of this feature your spreadsheet should really be laid out as a table in the first place.

Copy Formatting

Excel Copy Formatting

Excel Copy Formatting

While not a formatting command in its own right, it’s worth pointing out the following button on the Ribbon. The Copy Formatting or Format Painter button can be really useful and a time saver. Simply highlight a cell, or range of cells who’s formatting you want to copy, click the button and then paste into the target cell, or range of cells.

If you double click the Copy Formatting or Format Painter button, the Copy Formatting command stays active so you can keep applying the formatting options that you have copied.

One final note, you might have heard of Conditional Formatting. I have purposely steered clear of Conditional Formatting in this post. While Conditional Formatting is very useful and powerful, it is slightly more complex to use and will be the subject of several blog posts in the future.

Hopefully, you will have found this blog post useful. Any comments, questions or feedback, please leave them in the comments box below.

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