Formatting your Excel Workbook: Best Practices

Have you ever opened up a workbook that kind of looked like Christmas threw up all over it? If it’s not formatted appropriately, it can make it pretty difficult to make sense of the actual data that’s contained in it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had students tell me that the number one goal is to “make their workbooks look pretty”. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with wanting to do that, it’s important to remember the most crucial aspect – the data. When you get caught up with fonts, shading, borders, and the like, it’s easy to lose sight of that. The workbook should be formatted to make it easier to read, establish a sense of professionalism, draw attention to specific points or elements within the workbook and provide continuity between the worksheets. If you have too much formatting, it can overwhelm the data, while too little can make it harder to understand. ALWAYS REMEMBER: when it comes to formatting, the end goal is not just to make the workbook “pretty”, but to accentuate the important trends and relationships in the data you’re working with. Here are some tips to help you along:

  • Use similar colours to differentiate types of cell content and to direct users where to enter data
  • Avoid garish colour combinations that could annoy the reader and be difficult to read
  • Ensure output is readable on both black-and-white and colour printers
  • Understand your printer’s limitations and features; colours that look great on your monitor may not print quite as well
  • Be sensitive to your audience: about 8% of all men and 0.5% of women have some type of colour blindness and may not be able to see text with certain colour combinations; red-green colour blindness is the most common, so try to avoid using red text on a green background or green text on a red background

Interested in learning more about formatting in Excel? Come and attend our FREE webcast! For more information, just send us an email with your name, phone number, and company name (if applicable). We’ll send you all the information you need to sign up. Please note: the webcast is based on Microsoft Excel 2010; however, the information you’ll learn in the session will be applicable to Microsoft 2007 and 2013 as well.

If you’ve got any Microsoft Office tips and tricks you want to share, let us know!


-Katie Caplan
Instructor & Office Manager
Sector Learning Solutions


2 responses to “Formatting your Excel Workbook: Best Practices

  1. Very good points. I usually use red and green colors in my spreadsheets thinking that these colors make it look more presentable. I had never thought that some of my reader could be color blind also.
    From now onward, I will think from that perspective as well.
    Thanks for sharing such awesome tips 🙂

  2. SectorLearningSolutions

    Hi Ankit,
    Thank you for your feedback! I’m happy that these tips gave you a new perspective on formatting 🙂
    -Katie, Sector Learning Solutions

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