Illustration: Andy Wolber / TechRepublic

Some people use Google Sheets to manage text. For example, a few colleagues use a Google Sheet with rows and columns that contain detailed descriptions of specific software features; others use a Google Sheet to serve as a planning and/or project tracking tool, with text that describes key project milestones, details and future actions. These Google Sheets often contain more text than numbers.

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By default, text in a Google Sheet cell is aligned to the left and bottom side of a cell, with the text overflowing any adjacent blank cells. Unless Google Sheet cell formatting is changed, these options may make your spreadsheet difficult to read. Often, I encourage people to make three text alignment adjustments.

  1. For many cells, change the vertical alignment to the top, which ensures that the text starts at the top of each cell.
  2. Next, adjust the horizontal alignment to the left, so that paragraphs read much like they might in a document.
  3. Third, enable text wrap to ensure that all text in a cell displays.

The combination of these three changes helps make a Google Sheet with many text fields easier to read (Figure A).

Figure A

Text wrap and alignment options in Google Sheets display in the Format menu.

Here’s how to adjust each of these settings, both in Google Sheets in the Chrome browser on a computer, as well as in the Google Sheets app for either Android or iOS. These adjustments may be made either from the Format menu options in Google Sheets or with the alignment and wrap icons (Figure B).

Figure B

If you prefer, Google Sheets also offers horizontal alignment, vertical alignment and text wrap icons with access to the three settings for each.

How to change text wrapping settings in Google Sheets

With a text cell selected, choose the Format | Wrapping | Overflow option. Text in a cell overflows adjacent blank cells. This is the default.

In a text-heavy Google Sheet, you can choose Format | Wrapping | Wrap to make it so every word in a cell is displayed. The cell will increase in size vertically to display the text. After you enable text wrap, you also may want to change column widths.

Google Sheets in Chrome on a computer also offers a Format | Wrapping | Clip option that truncates the display of text to the width of the cell (Figure C).

Figure C

Google Sheets offers three text wrap options: Overflow, Wrap and Clip. Overflow, the default, extends text over any blank adjacent cells. Wrap maintains column width and extends row height to display all text. Clip truncates the display of text in a cell at the width of the cell.

How to change vertical alignment settings in Google Sheets

When you have several cells that contain a sentence or more of text, try Format | Alignment | Top. Many people find this easier to read, since the text in each cell will start at the same level; otherwise, the height of the first word in each cell might vary.

Alternative settings include Format | Alignment | Middle, which works well for titles for rows, and Format | Alignment | Bottom, which works well with rows and/or cells of short text not long enough to wrap (Figure D).

Figure D

You may adjust text alignment within a cell to the top, middle, or bottom.

How to change horizontal align settings in Google Sheets

For cells that contain sentences or paragraphs of text, try Format | Alignment | Left (or Ctrl+Shift+C). This matches the alignment that people may be used to when reading text in languages traditionally read from left-to-right, such as English, German, French and Spanish (Figure E).

Column and/or row headers may work well when centered: Format | Alignment | Center (or Ctrl+Shift+E). In some cases, a column or row that functions as a header may benefit from right-alignment, Format | Alignment | Right (or Ctrl+Shift+R).

Figure E

Align text in a Google Sheet left, center, or right, either with Format | Align menu options or with keyboard combinations.

Google Sheets mobile apps: How to change text wrap and alignment

In the Google Sheets app on Android and iOS, you can select a cell (or cells), then tap the Text/Cell format icon in the upper right (it displays as an A with a few horizontal lines to the right). This brings up both Text and Cell format options.

Mobile Google Sheets includes access to all three horizontal and vertical alignment options display: Left, center, right and top, middle and bottom. However, the Google Sheets app offers a single slider for text wrap. Tap Cell, then choose whether the Wrap Text option is on or off (Figure F).

Figure F

In Google Sheets on Android or iOS, select a cell (or cells), then tap the text/cell edit icon in the upper right, which displays like an A with horizontal lines next to it. From there, you may adjust alignment (horizontal and/or vertical) settings, or tap Cell, then adjust the Wrap Text slider.

How do you format text-heavy Google Sheets?

If you work with Google Sheets that contain significant numbers of text fields, which text wrap and alignment settings do you prefer? Do you, like me, often adjust these settings when you first open a text-heavy spreadsheet? Let me know how you most often format text fields in Google Sheets, either by adding a comment below or sharing on Twitter (@awolber).