Five tips for working with Excel comments

Comments provide a convenient way to attach information to worksheet cells without getting in the way of your data. Here are some tricks to help you get more from this handy feature.

Commenting cells is a favorite feature in Excel. You don't have to be an expert to need them or use them. As is, comments are a great tool, but you can do more. These five tips will make you more efficient and help you customize the final product.

1: View them all

Comments, by default, stay tucked away from view. You can hover your mouse over an individual comment to read it. Or you can display them all at the same time, as follows:

  1. In Excel 2010, click the File tab and click Options under Help. In Excel 2007, click the Office button and then click Excel Options. In the left pane, click Advanced.
  2. In the Display section, check Comments And Indicators under the For Cells With Comments option.
  3. Click OK.

    You can also click the Review tab and click Show All Comments in 2007 and 2010. That option usurps the setting above, which might be a consideration if you're preparing a template for users and you want tight control over how they insert and view comments.

    In Excel 2003:

    1. Choose Options from the Tools menu.
    2. Click the View tab.
    3. Check Comment & Indicator in the Comments section.
    4. Click OK.

    2: Change the font size

    The font size for comments is easy to change, but you need to do so through Windows, not Excel. Consequently, most users don't realize they can make this change. For Windows XP systems, 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.

    For Windows 7, 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 updates all tip-type windows, not just Excel comments. So be sure to have a good look around after making the change, just to make sure you can live with its total impact. In addition, the dialog box will allow you to change the font, but Excel will ignore any change you make to the font face.

    3: Change the shape

    Most of the time, the shape of comments won't matter, but you can change it. You might do so to add a bit of interest or even to make a point. In Excel 2007 and 2010, you'll have to add Change Shape to the Quick Access Toolbar as follows:

    1. Choose More Commands from the QAT drop-down.
    2. From the Choose Commands From drop-down, choose Drawing Tools | Format Tab.
    3. Highlight Change Shape and click Add.
    4. Click OK.

    Once you've added the option to the QAT, do the following:

    1. Right-click the commented cell and choose Edit Comment.
    2. Click the comment's border to select it.
    3. Click the Change Shape drop-down and select a shape. (If the option is grayed out, you didn't select the comment correctly.)

    In Excel 2003, it's a bit easier:

    1. Repeat steps 1 and 2 above.
    2. Choose Change AutoShape from the Draw drop-down (on the Drawing toolbar). If the Drawing toolbar isn't visible, choose Toolbars from the View menu and check Drawing.
    3. Choose a category and then select a shape.

    4: Add a picture

    Text won't always be the best way to convey your message. Sometimes, a picture is much more insightful. You can add a picture to an Excel comment, as follows:

    1. You might want to delete any existing text.
    2. Right-click the comment border and select Format Comment.
    3. Click the Colors And Lines tab. If you only get the Font tab, close the dialog and start over -- the comment wasn't selected properly. (You should see a dotted border around the comment when it's selected.)
    4. From the Color drop-down, choose Fill Effects.
    5. Click the Picture tab and then click Select Picture.
    6. Locate and double-click the picture file.
    7. Check the Lock Picture Aspect Ratio option to keep the picture in proportion.
    8. Click Insert and then click OK twice.

      5: Bypass the user interface

      To insert a comment, you probably choose Comment from the Insert menu -- or if you're using Excel 2007/2010, you click New Comment in the Comments group on the Review tab <whew!>. There's also a keyboard shortcut that bypasses the user interface:

      1. Select a cell.
      2. Press [Shift]+[F2].