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To get your point across when communicating information in the form of a spreadsheet of numbers, it is often necessary to add some formatting beyond the basic numbers in a set of cells. Column headings, row names, fonts, colors, and other basic formatting techniques can help you emphasize the data points you want your audience to focus on. The last thing you want to do is bog your communication down with an overwhelming sea of numbers.

Basic Microsoft Excel 2003 formatting was relatively straightforward and made liberal use of menus and dialog boxes. With the introduction of the Office Ribbon interface, basic formatting in Microsoft Office 2007 applications is a little different and may take some getting used to for power users familiar with previous versions. The Excel 2007 basic formatting functions are located under the Home tab, which is the default starting tab for any workbook or worksheet (Figure A).

Figure A
Home tab

On the Home tab Ribbon you will find formatting sections marked:

  • Font
  • Alignment
  • Number
  • Cells

The section on Styles will be covered in detail in another article.


The buttons in the Font section of the Home tab Ribbon should be familiar to everyone who regularly uses an office suite. There are buttons for adding bold, italics, underline, and to change font color — all the usual suspects. Those buttons should be self-explanatory. One button may require additional investigation — the Borders button. Clicking on that button (Figure B) reveals an extensive menu of potential border positions and styles.

Figure B
Borders button

As you can see in Figure C, using borders can help you separate data into readable groups and help you communicate the important information to your audience.

Figure C
Borders in action


The next section on the Home Ribbon is Alignment. The various buttons in this section should be relatively familiar to most users, especially if they are already familiar with Excel 2003 and earlier. The buttons in the Alignment section will right- and left-justify text, center text, indent text, and align the text within a cell. The Alignment section is also where you can orient your text at an angle. Figure D shows some of the ways you can align text from this section of the Rribbon.

Figure D
Alignment examples

Beyond manipulating text position within a cell, the Alignment section of the Home Ribbon is also where you can perform the merge cell operation. This is a basic formatting technique, but it comes in handy when you have a title you want to center over a table of data. Figure E gives you an example — the title is actually located in cell A1 but is extended over the entire table by the merge cell function.

Figure E
Merge cells


The next section of the Home Ribbon in Excel 2007 is called Number, but it is really more involved than its name implies (Figure F). Besides designating how many digits numerical data should show, this section also allows you to specify whether the data should be expressed as currency, dates, time, percentage, or scientific notation.

Figure F


The Cells section (Figure G) on the Home Ribbon contains only three buttons, but they invoke some of the more useful features you will likely use when working on an Excel worksheet. The Insert and Delete buttons do exactly what they say they do — they insert and delete rows, columns, and individual cells. In addition, the Format button brings up a menu with options for setting row height, column width, and visibility. This is also where you can set options for protecting and locking cells.

Figure G

Dialog boxes

For those of you resistant to change, you can still reach a familiar dialog box (Figure H) with all of the various formatting tabs and choices by clicking on the Expansion icon in the lower-right corner of the Font, Alignment, or Number sections of the Home Ribbon.

Figure H
Formatting dialog

The basics

Of course, this is just the basics of formatting in Excel 2007. However, even with basic formatting you can highlight the specific aspects of a report or worksheet for your audience. Figure I shows a simple example of basic formatting. More advanced formatting techniques will be covered in a future article.

Figure I
Example 1 – basic