How do I create a custom sort in Excel?

Learn how to create a custom sort for unique sorting needs that alphabetic and numeric sorts just can't handle.

In Custom sorting in Excel, I showed you a custom sort order for months. Excel has four of these built-in custom sorts. Unfortunately, they won't handle more unique sorting needs, but you can create new ones when necessary. For example, you might identify temperatures by Cold, Warm, and Hot. An alphabetic sort would result in Cold, Hot, Warm, or Warm, Hot, Cold and there's no built-in custom sort for this particular list.

To create a custom sort for the three elements, Cold, Hot, and Warm, in that order, do the following in Excel Excel 2010:

  1. Click the File tab and select Options (under Help).
  2. Select Advanced in the left pane.
  3. In the General section, click Edit Custom Lists.
  4. In the List Entries control, enter each element in the sort order. Press Enter after each entry. (If the list is long or already exists as natural data, you can specify the cell reference and click Import).
  5. Click Add and Excel will transfer the new custom sort to the Custom Lists control (on the left).
  6. Click OK twice.

If you're using Excel 2007, do the following:

  1. Click the Office button and click Excel Options.
  2. Click Popular in the left pane (the default).
  3. In the Top Options For Working With Excel section, click the Edit Custom Lists button.
  4. Continue with step 4 above.

To apply the custom sort, select the list you want to sort, click the Data tab, and then click Sort in the Sort & Filter group. Click the Order dropdown, choose Custom Lists, and select the Cold, Warm, Hot list.

In Excel 2003, you can create the same custom sort as follows:

  1. Choose Options from the Tools menu.
  2. Click the Custom Lists tab.
  3. Continue with step 4 for Excel 2010.

To apply the custom sort in Excel 2003, select the list, and choose Sort from the Data menu. Click the Options button, choose the custom sort from the First Key Sort Order dropdown, and click OK twice.

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Custom lists are stored in the Windows Registry so they're available for all workbooks, not just the one you're working in when you create the list. However, that means the list won't be on other computers. If you're working with the same workbook, the list itself is available. Open the Custom Lists dialog box, select the list in the Custom Lists control (on the left of the last figure above) and click Add. Doing so will add the custom sort to the local system's Registry.