How to format a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet

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Updated: 08/02/2019 by Computer Hope

Microsoft Excel provides many options for formatting a spreadsheet. You can adjust data in a cell, change the size of rows and columns, add conditional formatting, and more. To learn how to format a spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel, make a selection from the next section, and follow the instructions.

Change font type, size, or color of data in a cell

Microsoft Excel Home tab, Font section - Change font type, size, color

To change the font type, size, or color, select the cell you want to change, then the appropriate option on the Home tab, and then the Font section on the Ribbon.

Set data to be bold, italic, or underlined in a cell

In Excel, you can set data in a cell to be bold, italic, or underlined, to help bring attention to it.

Microsoft Excel Home tab, Font section - Set bold, italics, underline

To change the format of the data in a cell, on the Home tab, under the font section of the Ribbon, click the B icon for bold, I icon for italic, or U icon for underline.

Change the background color of a cell

In Excel, you can change the background color of a cell to a wide variety of colors to highlight specific data in a spreadsheet.

Microsoft Excel Home tab, Font section - Set background color

To change the background color of a cell, select the cell you want to change. On the Home tab, in the Font section on the Ribbon, click the icon that looks like a paint bucket being tipped to the right. Select the desired background color from the drop-down window, or click More Colors.

Add a border around one or more cells

In Excel, you can add a border around one or more cells, to group or separate them, improving both visibility and readability of data. You can also choose from different types of borders, and customize their thickness.

Microsoft Excel Home tab, Font section - Set cell border

To set a border around cells, select the cells for which you want to add a border. On the Home tab, in the Font section on the Ribbon, click the icon that looks like a box with a cross in it, and a black line on the bottom of the box. In the drop-down window, select the type of border you want to add around the cells.

For additional border styles and options, right-click on the selected cells and choose Format Cells. Click on the Border tab in the Format Cells window, and select the style of border you prefer.

Change the alignment of data in a cell

In Excel, you can change the horizontal and vertical alignment of data in a cell. You can also indent the data in a cell, if desired.

Microsoft Excel Home tab, Alignment section - Change cell alignment

To change the alignment or indentation, select the cell you want to change. On the Home tab, in the Alignment section on the Ribbon, click the desired alignment option icon. The horizontal alignment options have 3 lines in the icon (top row of icons) and the vertical alignment options have 6 lines in the icon (bottom row of icons).

To indent data in a cell, click the icon with two bold lines and an arrow pointing to the right. To remove indentation of data in a cell, click the icon with two bold lines and an arrow pointing to the left.

Change the data type for a cell

In Excel, you can change, or format, the type of data in a cell. For example, you can change the data to be a currency, displaying a currency symbol next to the left of it. Other data types you can change data to include numerical with decimal places, date, time, percentage, fraction, and text.

Microsoft Excel Home tab, Numbers section - Change data type

Select the cell for which you want to change the data type. On the Home tab, Number section in the Ribbon, click the data type drop-down list and select the data type you want to set for the data in the cell.

If you want to change the data to a data type of currency or percentage, you can click the dollar sign icon or the percent icon below the data type drop-down list. If you click the down arrow to the right of the dollar sign icon, you can choose between several currency types, including European and Chinese currencies.

Set up conditional formatting for one or more cells

In Excel, you can set conditional formatting for a cell, based on data in that cell. Conditional formatting is useful for automatically setting a background color in a cell. A common use of conditional formatting is setting the background color to green, yellow, or red based on the numerical data in the cells.

Microsoft Excel Home tab, Styles section - Set conditional formatting

Select the cells in which conditional formatting needs to be set. On the Home tab, in the Styles section on the Ribbon, click the Conditional Formatting icon and select a pre-defined rule or click New Rule to create your own.

If you selected a pre-defined conditional formatting rule, enter and select the applicable conditions and options in the window that opens. If you chose to create a new rule, select a Rule Type, then enter and select the applicable conditions and options in the New Formatting Rule window.

  • See our conditional formatting page for more information and help on setting up conditional formatting in your spreadsheet.

Change width of a column or height of a row

In Excel, you can change the width of a column or the height of a row to ensure that it fits all of the text or data. Making these width or height adjustments can make data in the spreadsheet more easily readable and understandable.

Microsoft Excel home tab format options

There are two ways you can change the width of a column or height of a row. On the Home tab, in the Cells section on the Ribbon, click the Format option. In the drop-down menu, select Column Width or Row Height to change the size of the selected column or row. In the Column Width or Row Height window that opens, enter the desired width or height value.

Excel column arrow for adjusting width

The second way is to use your mouse to change the column width or row height. For a column width change, in the horizontal header bar above row 1, place the mouse cursor between the column you want to change the width of and the column next to it. The cursor will change to a cross with arrows on either side of the horizontal line in it. Press and hold the left mouse button, then drag the mouse to the left or right to change the column width. Release the left mouse button to set the new column width.

For a row height change, in the vertical header bar to the left of column A, place the mouse cursor between the row you want to change the height of and the row below it. The cursor will change to a cross, with arrows on top and bottom of the vertical line in the cross. Press and hold the left mouse button, then drag the mouse up or down to change the row height. Release the left mouse button to set the new row height.

In Excel, the column headers are labeled as A, B, C, D, etc. Unfortunately, there is no ability to change theses column headers. Instead, you need to enter names into row 1.

Named column header row in Microsoft Excel

To set your own column headers, if you have data in row 1 of the spreadsheet, insert a new row above row 1. To make the column headers stand out from the rest of the data in the columns, consider adding background color and bold formatting.

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