Document Excel formulas with embedded comments

Need to share information about a formula with other users or developers? Drop them a note, right into the formula.

Cell comments display related information about the contents of a cell. They can serve as a reminder to yourself and they're a great way to share information with users and other developers. You're probably already familiar with this feature and if you're like me, you've sprinkled your sheets with useful comments. To do so, simply right-click a cell and start typing. Once you've inserted a comment, Excel displays a small red triangle in the cell's upper right corner. To view the comment, simply hover over the cell.

TechRepublic's Microsoft Office Suite newsletter, delivered every Wednesday, is designed to help your users get the most from Word, Excel, and Access. Automatically sign up today!

Cell comments aren't the only way to share relevant information about the contents of a cell. Did you know that you can insert a comment into a formula? Most likely, you'd use this feature to document a formula when the formula itself isn't clear. For instance, perhaps a formula is long or it references oddly-named ranges. Or, you might want to include a note about what the formula does or the type of data it should return.

To add a comment to a formula, use the following form:

Formula + N("your comment")

For instance, the following formula contains a note that explains the formula's purpose:

=($C2-$B2 + ($B2>$C2))-$D2+N("Returns the elapsed time between two time values")

In this particular formula, there's no way to tell what's going on, so the note adds valuable information to other users. Of course, users can easily see the formula's purpose by simply viewing the spreadsheet! Of more value, might be a note that shares the required data types, or even a development note that identifies the person who entered the formula, or perhaps the person who last modified the formula and why—if that information is relevant to other users in some way.

This feature begs for abuse though, so keep notes simple and relevant. The more notes you add, the less likely users are to pay attention to them.

This feature works in all versions of Excel.


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.

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox