Software

10 Excel defaults you can customize to work the way YOU want

You don't have to adjust every Excel workbook to meet your needs. By changing a few settings, you can make all your workbooks automatically conform to your preferences.

Like Word, Excel's out-of-the box environment might not provide the most efficient setup for you. If you find yourself changing the same attributes every time you create a new workbook, consider changing them at the program or template level. That way, Excel will generate each new workbook just the way you like it. The following settings are some of the more common ones that users customize. If you don't find your favorite, please feel free to share your suggestions in the discussion below.

1: File location

Many users don't use the default file folder, My Documents. You can quickly change this default and save workbooks where you want automatically, as follows:

  1. Click the File tab and choose Options (under Help). In Excel 2007, click the Office button and then click Excel Options. In Excel 2003, choose Options from the Tools menu.
  2. In the left pane, choose Save. In Excel 2003, click the General tab.
  3. In the Save Documents section, change the path in the Default File Location field, as shown in Figure A. You can type the path or click Browse to locate it.
  4. Click OK.

Figure A

Save files where you want, instead of in My Documents.

2: Number of sheets

Each new workbook includes three sheets. You can add and delete sheets, but you can also change the number of default sheets, as follows:

  1. Click the File tab and then click Options (under Help). In Excel 2007, click the Office button and then click Excel Options. In Excel 2003, choose Options from the Tools menu.
  2. Click General in the left pane. In Excel 2003, click the General tab.
  3. In the When Creating New Workbooks section, enter the number of sheets in the Include This Many Sheets field, as shown in Figure B. In Excel 2003, use the Sheets In New Workbook drop-down.
  4. Click OK.

Figure B

Determine the number of sheets provided in a new workbook.

3: Open a specific workbook

Opening a specific workbook when launching Excel can save a little time if you often work with the same workbook. This shortcut is easily accomplished by saving that workbook in the XLStart folder. Depending on your version of Windows, you'll find that folder in one of the following locations:

  • Windows XP: C:\Documents and Settings\user name\Application Data\Microsoft\Excel\XLStart
  • Windows Vista: C:\Users\user name\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Excel\XLStart
  • Windows 7: C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\Office\XLStart

Just save the workbook as you normally would, but save it to the appropriate XLStart folder.

4: Cursor movement

When you press Enter, Excel moves the cursor down one cell. If you enter data by moving to the right, rather than down, you can change the cursor's behavior, as follows:

  1. Click the File tab and then click Options (under Help). In Excel 2007, click the Office button and then click Excel Options. In Excel 2003, choose Options from the Tools menu.
  2. In the left pane, select Advanced. In Excel 2003, click the Edit tab.
  3. In the Editing Options section, choose Right from the Direction drop-down under the After Pressing Enter, Move Selection option, as shown in Figure C. You can choose Right, Left, Up, and Down. In Excel 2003, the option is Move Selection After Enter. If you don't want the cursor to move at all, uncheck the option.
  4. Click OK.

Figure C

This option lets you control Excel's cursor behavior when pressing Enter.

5: Font face and size

You might want to change the default font and size if your organization's conventions require something different. By doing so, you eliminate the task of adjusting each new workbook. To change the default font, do the following:

  1. Click the File tab and then click Options (under Help). In Excel 2007, click the Office button and then click Excel Options. In Excel 2003, choose Options from the Tools menu.
  2. Choose General (if necessary) from the left pane. In Excel 2003, click the General tab.
  3. In the When Creating New Workbooks section, change the Use This Font (Standard Font in Excel 2003) and Font Size options, as shown in Figure D.
  4. Click OK.

Figure D

Update these settings to specify the font and size of your choice in all workbooks.

6: Template

Like Word, Excel bases each new workbook on a template file (Book.xltx). You can permanently change many default settings by adjusting Book.xltx. You can make this change once to Book.xltx, instead of adjusting each new workbook manually.

When making changes at the template level, you can start in one of two ways:

  • If you've customized Book.xltx, open it so you don't lose prior changes.
  • If you haven't customized Book.xltx, you can begin with any blank workbook.

Make the changes you want to implement at the template level and then save the workbook as a template:

  1. Click the File tab and choose Save As. In Excel 2007, click the Office button and choose Save As. In Excel 2003, choose Save As from the File menu.
  2. Choose Excel Template (.xltx) from the Save As Type drop-down, as shown in Figure E. Excel 2003's template extension is .xlt.
  3. Locate the XLStart folder using the Save In control. You must save Book.xltx to the XLStart folder.
  4. Click Save.

Figure E

Specify the file as a template, using the appropriate extension.

If you can't find XLStart, you can use Excel's Visual Basic Editor to find the path, as follows:

  1. Launch Excel's VBE by pressing Alt + F11.
  2. If the Immediate window isn't visible, press Ctrl + G.
  3. In the Immediate window, type ? application.StartupPath and press Enter, as shown in Figure F.

Figure F

If you can open the VBE, you can find XLStart.

If you want to alter things at the sheet level, make your changes and save the file as Sheet.xltx. You'll use this file to change things such as inhibiting gridlines.

7: Startup folder

Tips #3 and #6 both rely on the XLStart folder to open or use specific files when you launch Excel. You can add a second location as follows:

  1. Click the File tab and then click Options (under Help). In Excel 2007, click the Office button and then click Excel Options. In Excel 2003, choose Options from the Tools menu.
  2. Choose Advanced in the left pane. In Excel 2003, click the General tab.
  3. In the General section, enter the path to the new alternate startup folder, as shown in Figure G.
  4. Click OK.

Figure G

Specify an alternate startup folder.

Excel will continue to open any workbooks found in XLStart, in addition to those workbooks found in the alternate startup location.

8: File format

Many organizations must deal with version compatibility issues because some users upgraded to the Ribbon version before others. When sharing Excel 2007 and 2010 files (.xlsx format) with Excel 2003 users, you must downgrade the workbook to the older format (.xls). Doing so is no big deal, but if you have to do it for every workbook, you might as well change the default file format to .xls, as follows:

  1. Click the File tab and choose Options (under Help). In Excel 2007, click the Office button and then click Excel Options.
  2. Choose Save in the left pane.
  3. In the Save Workbooks section, choose Excel 97-2003 Workbook (*.xls) from the Save Files In This Format drop-down, as shown in Figure H.
  4. Click OK.

Figure H

Save all files to the .xls format automatically.

This solution is limited to workbooks that don't use new features. It might be easier to download the compatiability pack for those still using Excel 2003.

9: Enable text wrap

When you enter a long string into a cell, Excel allows it to extend past the column's right border. If there's no data in the adjacent cells, the entire string is visible. But once you enter data in the adjacent cell, the new data takes precedent and the original string disappears behind the new text. This happens at the format level and you can reset this alignment attribute by adjusting the Normal style. Unfortunately, that doesn't help all the other workbooks you create. If this is a format you want to set for all new workbooks, change the Normal style in book.xltx (#6):

  1. Click the Home tab. Then, in the Styles group, click the Cell Styles drop-down. In Excel 2003, choose Style from the Format menu.
  2. In the resulting gallery, right-click Normal and choose Modify, as shown in Figure I. In Excel 2003, select Normal in the Style Name control, click Modify, and then skip to step 4.
  3. In the Style dialog, click Format.
  4. Click the Alignment tab and select the Wrap Text option in the Text Control section, shown in Figure J.
  5. Click OK twice.

Figure I

Modify the Normal style to set the Text Wrap property for the entire workbook.

Figure J

Selecting the Wrap Text option will allow text wrapping in all cells.

Just remember that changing the Normal style works in the current workbook only. You must save this at the template level to adjust the style for all new workbooks.

10: Comment font size

The font size for comments is easy to change, but it takes a detour from the traditional routes. You must change a Windows setting -- you can't control the comment font size via Excel.

If you're using Windows XP, do the following:

  1. Right-click the desktop and choose Properties.
  2. Click the Appearance tab and then click Advanced.
  3. From the Item drop-down, choose ToolTip.
  4. Select a font size and click OK.
  5. Click Apply and then click OK.

Windows 7 users should do the following:

  1. Right-click the desktop and choose Personalize.
  2. Click Window Color.
  3. Click Advanced Appearance Settings.
  4. From the Item drop-down, choose ToolTip.
  5. Choose a font size.
  6. Click OK and then click Save Changes.

This change will update all tip-type windows, not just Excel comments. So be sure you can live with the total package, especially if you share your system with other users. Note: Although the dialog will let you specify a different font, Excel will ignore the new setting.

About

Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.

6 comments
keninwinona
keninwinona

Is there a way to change the way <ENTER> is treated on a per column basis.


Example:  I'm scanning UPC Codes using a scanner and I want the scanner to follow the code with a <RETURN>.  After this, I want to advance to the next column.  When I enter information, I want to redirect the cursor to the first column of the next line (so that I can scan again).  A1 -> B1 -> A2 -> B2...


Thanks in advance.

bsalloum
bsalloum

Is there a way to change Paste so it defaults to the Target format, instead of having to select it every time?

arp
arp

Good list. Thanks. Is there a way to change the default delimter to "Comma" when you import from a text file using the wizard.

hws1947
hws1947

Is there any way to bring back the classic palette of colors for fonts and fill-in colors vs. the awful new color options that are not that attractive. I am always clicking on "More Colors" at the bottom of the palette to fish out a classic color scheme.

showbizk
showbizk

There is an option under advanced that could be unchecked, to NOT show the options when pasting.

spofcher
spofcher

Thanks for asking this question. I hope that someone has the answer

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