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How to Format an Excel Spreadsheet

Updated on April 3, 2015

Formatting Your Spreadsheet

If you know how to make simple spreadsheets or you have worked your way through Spreadsheets for Beginners or How to make a Household Expenses Spreadsheet, you will have covered the basics of how to set up a simple spreadsheet using Microsoft Excel.

Here, we are going to look at presenting our data in a clearer, more accurate way. More accurate? Well, yes, we will be formatting specific cells to show real dates and currency, as well as text. We will also make everything clearer and easier to follow, with some simple formatting.

The images and diagrams on this page are all copyright to me, and must not be used without my written permission and a link to this page.

Simple Household Expenses Worksheet - A spreadsheet set up using Excel

At the end of the last exercise, we had a simple spreadsheet, laid in columns A to F and rows 1 to 11.

The font is Calibri font, which is easy to read, and the font size is 11, which is the minimum recommended size for producing accessible documents.

We can begin by putting in some extra rows, to space things out, and make the spreadsheet clearer.

Selecting a Row in Excel

Clicking on the number at the left hand side, will highlight that row. Right click the number 2, to show the context menu, and select "Insert". This will put an empty row between the first two rows, and rename the rows appropriately. Repeat the process to insert empty rows above "Weekly totals" and "Monthly totals".

More about Inserting Rows and Columns in Excel

To insert a new column, you can follow a similar process. Select a column, by clicking on the letter at the top. Right click to see the context menu, and select "Insert". A new column will be inserted to the left of the original column. You can also use the "Cell" group on the Home Tab to insert, delete or format cells, columns and rows.

Now, select the rectangle of cells made up of columns B to F and rows 3 to 14, by clicking on the cell B3, then putting your finger on the shift key while clicking on the cell F14. The selected cells should appear blue, with a black line around them. Don't worry that B3 is not blue, it is still inside the black line, and selected.

Using the Number Group

on the Home Tab

Now look at the "Number" group on the Home Tab. There are two ways of using this menu. You can either select the formatting you want directly, or click the small arrow (circled in green) to show the Number tab of the "Format Cells Dialogue Box".

If selecting directly, the red arrow shows where you need to select "Accounting", and the purple arrow shows you where you need to select the appropriate currency.

It doesn't matter if you choose this method, or if you use the Format Cells Dialogue Box, the end result should be the same.

Format Cells Dialogue Box

Creating a budget spreadsheet in Excel - Video lesson

Some people find it helpful to watch someone working through an example. Remember you can pause, and review, if you wish to. This is one of the more useful videos around.

Formatting Dates in Excel

I decided to change the weeks to real dates. If you type 28/01/13, Excel 2010 recognizes this as a date. If your spreadsheet software doesn't do this, you can manually select the cell format. Again, you can use the Number group on the Home Tab, or the Format Cells Dialogue Box to do this.

Font Face, Font Size & Enhancements - Improving the appearance of your spreadsheet

Microsoft Excel has many pre-defined table styles, which you can select in the "Styles" group, next to the Number Group, on the Home tab. There is a potential snag with this: pre-defined styles won't necessarily suit your spreadsheet. So, here, we will format manually, using the "font" group, on the Home tab.

The best way to discover how this works is by selecting a cell, a column or a row, applying a format, and then viewing to see if it has made the table easier to read. For example, select column A, by clicking on the A at the top. Then click on the B in the "Font" group, this will "bold" the text in this column.

Changing Font Colour

Sometimes it is helpful to color-code your data entries. Here, I’ve used a green font to symbolize expenses that are crucial and cannot be lowered. I’ve used an amber font to highlight the expenses that I could look at carefully, and perhaps reduce e.g. ride to work on my bicycle, rather than drive a car. I’ve used red for the expenses that I should lower e.g. fewer movies and meals out, fewer clothes purchases.

Fill Color

If you prefer, you could use a similar idea. Instead of changing font color, in this example, I've changed the fill color. Use the paint pot symbol to change fill colors.

Changing font or fill color is really up to you deciding which you prefer.

One word of caution, don't overdo it! If you have too many different font styles, colors and/or fills, your spreadsheet will look messy.

Highlighting Individual Cells

For an expenses worksheet, you may find it useful to highlight the expenditures which were unusually large. Here, I have selected individual cells, and highlighted those by selecting a red font. I think that this is a simple, but effective technique.

I have also formatted the totals, weekly and monthly. To do this, highlight the cell, then click on "Cell Styles" in the "Styles" group of the Home Tab. You can select "Total" here to get the underlining effect.

Experiment With Formatting

Remember to save your spreadsheet before you start to experiment with formatting or other changes. But, don't be anxious about experimenting, because this really is the best way to learn. If you have a saved copy, you can always go back to that!

Microsoft Excel

Excel is available as part of Microsoft Office, in Student, Home and Business versions, for use on pc and mac computers. It is also available as a standalone program, if you don't need other Microsoft Office products.

Microsoft Excel 2013  (1PC/1User) [Download]
Microsoft Excel 2013  (1PC/1User) [Download]

For Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows Server 2008 R2, or Windows Server 2012 operating systems.

Microsoft Office Home and Student 2013 (1PC/1User) [Download]
Microsoft Office Home and Student 2013 (1PC/1User) [Download]

For Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 2008 R2 with .NET 3.5 or greater


© 2013 savateuse

Do You Use Spreadsheets? - Are there any spreadsheet topics you would like help with?

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    • savateuse profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      @VineetBhandari: Formatting spreadsheets can really help other people to understand the information you want to present.

    • VineetBhandari profile image


      5 years ago

      Thanks for sharing this useful information :)

    • savateuse profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      @greenspirit: I hope it helps!

    • greenspirit profile image

      poppy mercer 

      6 years ago from London

      This is something I'm really bad at. I've resisted all tutorials thrust upon me so far. This feels nice and friendly Julie! It might just get me started.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Really useful information. Thank you very much.

    • savateuse profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      @pkmcruk: Thanks for visiting, and for leaving such an encouraging comment!

    • pkmcruk profile image


      6 years ago from Cheshire UK

      This series of pages you are creating are going to be so helpful to so many people. Really clear and well presented information


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