Professional spreadsheets should not look like an 8-bit game, or an Easter Egg. However, some formatting can make spreadsheets easier to read. This article will review formatting sheets and cells.
The spreadsheet itself should look professional. Excel files should be named – with short descriptive names. Your quarterly budget reports should be named “Budget First Quarter.xlsx” or “Budget January 2016.xlsx” Nothing says unprofessional like a report with a name that’s a sentence – or a file named “Book1”. Plus reasonably named files are easy to locate. And having a system – naming your monthly budget as “Budget Month Year.xlsx” makes it easy to find again. Use the “save as” feature to change the initial default name (usually “book1”, “book2”, etc.)
Not only should the spreadsheet file be reasonably named with an intelligent, relevant name, but each tab should also have a name or label.
To label tabs:
Right click the tab, then choose “rename”. Delete “sheet1” and replace with a short, descriptive name for the tab. You can also double-click on the tab and do the same thing – delete the default and rename it.
Older versions of Excel, including 2010, automatically open a new workbook with three tabs. Please delete the tabs you are not using. Nothing says unprofessional like a spreadsheet with extra blank tabs named “sheet2” or “sheet3”. To delete an entire sheet: Right-click and choose “delete” – you may or may not get a pop-up asking if you really want to delete the sheet – if you do, choose “yes” and click “OK”. One of the few advantages of the newest version of Office (Office 2013 aka “Office 365”) is that when you open a new workbook you get one sheet. Which is often all you need.
What if you need additional sheets, though?
Inserting Sheets – Insert
There are two ways to add sheets. The first is using the Insert Command.
Click the tab, click Insert on the pop-up menu, then click “Worksheet” and press the “OK” button.
Move or Copy Sheets
Let’s say, though, you have a Yearly by Month budget in Excel, and every month you add a new “Monthly Budget” sheet. All your column labels and formulas are already entered into the “January” tab. Sure, the details will change from month-to-month, but the format is the same. With Excel, you don’t need to start over with re-creating all the formatting and formulas. Simply copy the sheet, keep the formatting and delete the data.
To copy a sheet, right-click the tab, and choose “Move or Copy”.
Put a check mark in the “Make a Copy” box, (make sure in the drop list the new sheet will appear “at end” (the default is before the current sheet). If you forget this step, you can always go in and move the sheet.
“Move or Copy” is one of the most useful tools in Excel – you can even move sheets to a new book.
Use the drop-down arrow to choose new book. Your new copy will have the default name of “book2” (or three or four, etc – depends on how many new spreadsheets you’ve created that day) be sure to save the spreadsheet with a new name.
And as it says on the tin, the move command allows you to re-arrange sheets in a multi-spreadsheet workbook.
Some versions of Excel also allow color-coding of tabs. This makes it easier to find the correct sheet in large multi-sheet workbooks. Right-click the tab and simply choose “tab color” from the menu.
The formatting menu has several useful commands. To get to the formatting menu, right click and choose “format cells”.
This button can be added to your “Custom Quick Access Toolbar” as can any of the tabs in the menu, such as formatting. There are many useful items in Format Cells, let’s go through them one at a time.
Excel was designed for crunching numbers – but it has many other uses – the Number tab allows the user to customize a row, or more likely a column, by setting how Excel views “numbers”. The most used option is to set a column to “text”. Click at the very top of the spreadsheet column (the letter), right click, choose “format cells”, choose “text” and confirm the choice by clicking “OK”.
This will force Excel to consider a column, even one with numbers, as text. Do you have a phone list for your office in Excel, but the spreadsheet tries to perform mathematical expressions with the phone numbers? Set the column to text. This command also works best if you set the column to text before entering data.
Text Alignment Horizontal tells Excel how to align text inside cells. The default is “General” which means Excel will try to “guess” how to display data. Trust me – you usually don’t want Excel deciding for you.
For text – names, budget items, etc – you want Horizontal set to left, you can then adjust the column size to be the smallest possible. This, in turn, allows the spreadsheet to be of a reasonable size – especially if you need to print it.
Numbers, especially currency, are normally set flush right. Also set the Number type to “currency” or “Accounting” (both will line up numbers by the decimal point. Both allow one to turn the currency symbol on or off and choosing the number of decimal places. Currency allows formatting negative numbers as red and enclosed in parenthesis, which is an accounting standard.
Center, Justify, and Distributed aren’t terribly useful for columns of data – but they may be useful for column headers. I’ve also used “Center” for check mark columns or Yes/No columns.
Vertical alignment – leave it at “Bottom” – this will also make “wrap text” work correctly.
Wrap Text allows you to wrap a long title or item in the same cell, so it appears as two lines but it’s in the same cell. This is extremely useful for any descriptive item. It also allows you to continue to use Excel’s sorting and filtering tools which are thrown off by blank lines or text that takes up multiple rows.
Shrink to fit I don’t use – but it probably does what it says on the tin – shrinks a particular item to fit in a cell.
Merge Cells is an interesting one. I use it in my first (title or cell label) row sometimes. Merge cells will take the cells you select and merge them into something that gives the appearance of a single cell. It’s useful for setting up the labels at the top of your spreadsheet.
Orientation allows you to tip the text to the angle you select in the box. Again, this is useful for setting up your first row that describes the content of a column. If you, for example, have long column headers but short information in the column – Orientation can be used to tip the words in the first row to make the spreadsheet overall shorter and the columns narrower. Think for example of an order sheet.
It is even possible to color-code the columns to make the order sheet easier to use.
Another solution would be to wrap the text in the first row – however, each column will still need to be as wide as the longest word in the item description.
Font formatting in Excel is the same as in Word and most other Microsoft Office programs. One thing to point out, the Calibri Font is a compressed san serif font that works beautifully in Excel. Excel often is used to organize a lot of information in an easy-to-understand format, often, ideally a single sheet, or a series of related sheets. Calibri allows the same information (same characters) to take up less space. It’s also San-Serif so it’s easy to read, especially on-line or for numbers.
Borders is a way to format cells in a spreadsheet. This includes setting a line under, for example, all the cells in the first row which describe what information is in each cell. Borders can be used to highlight a cell – such as a final price.
Fill allows the filling of cells with color. This is also easier with the shortcut button . Both the shortcut and the fill tab allow for picking color from the standard colors by clicking the “More Colors” button.
The Fill Effects button allows building of two-color gradients.
However, in professional spreadsheets it would be a very rare occasion that would require using gradients. Remember, most professional spreadsheets should look professional, not like an Easter egg. Shading the first row of a spreadsheet, the one with the column labels, is about all you need to do. The Cookie Spreadsheet I’ve used as some samples in this tutorial is designed to be fun – something to easily illustrate a few points, and certainly order sheets are a common use for Excel – but it’s a bit colorful for business purposes. Think about the purpose and use of your spreadsheets, and don’t over design with too much color or pattern.
In Excel, text color can be changed using the Text Color button . Click the arrow to choose the text color you want to use. Text Colors can be used to highlight data, such as negative numbers. However, text colors should be used sparingly.
Finally the Protection tab allows you to lock and hide spreadsheets. It also has no effect until you protect the worksheet. Basically ignore this tab.
Excel is a powerful spreadsheet program. It has many uses, and can be used to do many things that it’s designers probably never thought it would be used for (My Doctor Who Episode List for my Master Post was made using Excel). There are many different formatting options for Excel. Some you will use all the time – setting the Number format, Alignment, Borders, and Fills; others not-so-much such as gradient fills or protecting a worksheet. Just remember that the formatting you apply to spreadsheets should enhance comprehension, readability and visibility of information and not distract from it.