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10 cool ways to use Excel's conditional formatting feature - TechRepublic http://www.techrepublic.


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By Susan Harkins in 10 Things, April 11, 2012, 7:06 AM PST

Formatting, such as currency, alignment, and color, determines how Excel displays a value. But conditional formatting is
more flexible, applying specified formatting only when certain conditions are met. Here are some creative ways you can
push conditional formatting beyond its expected uses.
This article assumes a basic knowledge of Excel's conditional formatting feature. In Excel 2007 and 2010, Conditional
Formatting is in the Styles group on the Home tab. In Excel 2003, Conditional Formatting is on the Format menu.
Note: This list is also available as a photo gallery (,

and you can download a sample workbook (


(xls and xlsx format) that includes examples of the techniques described here.

1: Distinguish business rule violations
Using conditional formatting, you can visually discern when something is breaking a business rule. For example, Figure A
shows a simple timekeeping sheet that highlights a workday that's greater than eight hours. Why? Because your
organization requires approval for anything over an eight-hour day.

Figure A

Alert users to overtime hours requiring approval.

Working with the time values complicates things a bit, as you can see in Figure B. This solution uses >.34 to represent
time values greater than eight hours, which will work in most cases -- you can't use the value 8 or even the time value
8:00. Or you could use the predefined Greater Than rule in Excel 2007 and 2010, which will automatically use the more

17/10/2014 11:26

true. and so on.. First. Figure C Use icons instead of traditional formats to represent conditional rules. use Manage Rules to manipulate the results.333333. Then. select the values in column E and apply one of the default icon sets.techrepublic..10 cool ways to use Excel's conditional formatting feature . Figure B This formula returns True when a time value is greater than eight hours. you can display icons that are often easier to interpret than the values they represent. 17/10/2014 11:26 .. Figure D shows the final settings (click Reverse Icon Order first).TechRepublic http://www. For instance. Figure C shows an icon solution for the same rule violation in #1. 2 of 16 accurate value of 0.. 2: Display simple icons Using conditional formatting (in 2007 and 2010). a simple checkmark might be quicker to discern than the text value yes..

When this is the case.techrepublic. 3: Highlight a row based on a single value Filters are great for limiting what you see.. but sometimes you want to compare records.. Figure E 17/10/2014 11:26 . Figure E shows a data set of products with a conditional format highlighting only Condiment records.TechRepublic cool ways to use Excel's conditional formatting feature . conditional formats can distinguish records. 3 of 16 Figure D These settings display green and red icons to alert users to an overtime violation.

Figure G 17/10/2014 11:26 . use the Advanced Filter feature to copy a unique list to an out-of-the-way spot. Figure F shows the formula-based settings.. 4 of 16 You can distinguish records based on a single value.techrepublic. First. For instance.10 cool ways to use Excel's conditional formatting feature .. 4: Create a dynamic record highlight Highlighting an entire record (#3) is convenient. G6. Select the entire data range (not the column headings) so Excel can format the entire record (row). use the Data Validation feature to create a list.. and so on. as shown in Figure H. When the value in the referenced cell equals the string "Condiment. conditional. which updates with each row: G4. Then.TechRepublic http://www. also shown in Figure H." Excel highlights the entire row. The $G2 component creates a relative address. as shown in Figure G.. but you might want the conditional format to be more. Figure F You can highlight a row by applying the conditional format to the entire data range instead of a single column. suppose you want users to choose the category on the fly.

TechRepublic http://www. Figure I 17/10/2014 11:26 . the formula references the validation list in B2. 5 of 16 Let users choose the highlighted category from a validation list. Selecting an item from the validation list updates the conditional formatting.techrepublic. update the conditional format formula to reference the input list cool ways to use Excel's conditional formatting feature .. With the list in place. Instead of referencing a cell within the row. Figure H You'll need a unique list and a validation list. as shown in Figure I..

(You could highlight the entire row or one of the inventory values. Figure K 17/10/2014 11:26 . 5: Compare values It's common to compare this case.) Then. that's B2:B46. 6 of 16 This rule references the validation list instead of a literal string value.techrepublic. Select the values you want to format -. apply the format shown in Figure K. Figure J Highlighted items that are running low. you might track inventory levels by comparing the stock on hand to a reorder level. as shown in Figure J. Using conditional formatting. you can alert users when it's time to reorder.10 cool ways to use Excel's conditional formatting feature .com/blog/10-things/10-cool-ways-to-use-exce. For instance..TechRepublic http://www.

6: Compare lists You can find discrepancies between two lists using a conditional formatting rule. This rule. select the values in column B and update the rule formula to reference the values in column A.. 7 of 16 This rule highlights the product in column A when the in stock value goes below the reorder level. as shown in Figure L.10 cool ways to use Excel's conditional formatting feature ..TechRepublic http://www. To highlight the values in column B instead. Excel highlights the value in column A. If they're not the same. Figure M 17/10/2014 11:26 .com/blog/10-things/10-cool-ways-to-use-exce.techrepublic. Figure L This rule highlights values in column A when they differ from the values in column B. shown in Figure M. compares each value in column A to its counterpart in column B.

10 cool ways to use Excel's conditional formatting feature . 7: Create alternating bands Many sheets highlight every other row (banding) to improve The rule shown in Figure O highlights cells to achieve the alternate band effect. and that might not be what you want.techrepublic. 8 of 16 Apply this rule to compare the two side-by-side lists. but you end up with a table instead of a plain data set..TechRepublic http://www.. When you don't want a table. use conditional formatting to create alternating bands. The Table feature offers several predefined formats that include bands. Figure N 17/10/2014 11:26 . as shown in Figure N.

TechRepublic http://www. the sheet in Figure P shows duplicate values in a single but you'll probably want to highlight even or odd rows and not both. Figure O Apply either of these rules to create an alternate band effect. 9 of 16 Banding can improve readability.. 17/10/2014 11:26 . Select the values you want to format and apply the formula-based rule shown in Figure Q..10 cool ways to use Excel's conditional formatting feature . Figure P Highlight duplicate values for a quick alert. For instance. as shown here. 8: Find duplicates To find duplicate values or records. you can use a filter. but conditional formatting can pinpoint duplicate values on the fly.

17/10/2014 11:26 . but it has a few limitations. you can't choose to ignore the first occurrence and highlight just the subsequent values. you don't have much flexibility with the actual formats. as this more flexible formula-based rule can..TechRepublic http://www.10 cool ways to use Excel's conditional formatting feature .. concatenate the values and apply a similar rule to the results. this rule selects all duplicate Second. You can also hide duplicates (which I don't always recommend) by selecting a font color that matches the sheet's background. as shown in Figure R. 10 of 16 Figure Q This rule highlights all occurrences of the same value. Figure R The concatenating formula in column C finds duplicates across multiple columns. To ignore the first occurrence and highlight only subsequent values. use this formula: =COUNTIF($A$2:$A2. First.A2)>1 If you want to check for duplicate values across multiple columns. You can use Excel 2007 and 2010's built-in Find Duplicates rule.

in cell F16.techrepublic. and Excel's conditional formatting can help by alerting you to inconsistencies.. Figure S Combine conditional formatting with cross-footing for a hard-to-miss alert. Figure T 17/10/2014 11:26 . Adding the conditional format makes the discrepancy hard to miss when the two totaling values don't match. Select either of the cross-foot formulas and apply the rule shown in Figure T. 11 of 16 9: Find discrepancies Verifying data is an important task.the process of double-checking totals by comparing subtotals across rows and columns http://www..10 cool ways to use Excel's conditional formatting feature . Figure S shows a common accounting tool known as cross-footing -.

12 of 16 This rule compares two values. Figure U This option finds the smallest or largest value in a range.techrepublic.TechRepublic http://www. but you'll need a more complex rule to highlight the smallest or largest duplicate value..10 cool ways to use Excel's conditional formatting feature . As you can see in Figure V. 10: Find the smallest or largest duplicate It's easy to find the smallest or largest value using the predefined rule shown in Figure U. but Excel highlights each occurrence of the value the value 3 is the smallest value in the column. Figure V 17/10/2014 11:26 .

she was editor in chief for The Cobb About Susan Harkins Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant. the world's largest publisher of technical journals. The rule shown in Figure W will highlight the value 3 in the range named List only if 3 is also a duplicate.. To find the largest duplicate value.techrepublic. specializing in desktop solutions. substitute the MIN() function with MAX(). Figure W This rule ignores the smallest value unless it's also a duplicate value. 17/10/2014 11:26 . so apply a range name to your data set before applying the conditional formatting rule. Previously. This rule is unstable if you use normal referencing..10 cool ways to use Excel's conditional formatting feature . 13 of 16 A more complex rule highlights the smallest or largest duplicate value in a range.TechRepublic http://www.

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