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Chapter 4. Changing Document Appearance > Making Numbers Easier to Read

Making Numbers Easier to Read

Changing the format of the cells in your worksheet can make your data much easier to read, both by setting data labels apart from the actual data and by adding borders to define the boundaries between labels and data even more clearly. Of course, using formatting options to change the font and appearance of a cell’s contents doesn’t help with idiosyncratic data types such as dates, phone numbers, or currency.


For example, consider U.S. phone numbers. These numbers are 10 digits long and have a three-digit area code, a three-digit exchange, and a four-digit line number written in the form (###) ###-####. While it’s certainly possible to type a phone number with the expected formatting in a cell, it’s much simpler to type a sequence of 10 digits and have Excel change the data’s appearance.

You can tell Excel to expect a phone number in a cell by opening the Format Cells dialog box to the Number tab and displaying the formats available under the Special category.

Clicking Phone Number from the Type list tells Excel to format 10-digit numbers in the standard phone number format. As you can see by comparing the contents of the active cell and the contents of the formula bar in the next graphic, the underlying data isn’t changed, just its appearance in the cell.

Troubleshooting

If you type a nine-digit number in a field that expects a phone number, you won’t see an error message; instead, you’ll see a two-digit area code. For example, the number 4255555012 would be displayed as (425) 555-5012. An 11-digit number would be displayed with a four-digit area code.


Just as you can instruct Excel to expect a phone number in a cell, you can also have it expect a date or a currency amount. You can make those changes from the Format Cells dialog box by choosing either the Date category or the Currency category. The Date category lets you pick the format for the date (and determine whether the date’s appearance changes due to the Locale setting of the operating system on the computer viewing the workbook). In a similar vein, selecting the Currency category displays controls to set the number of places after the decimal point, the currency symbol to use, and the way in which Excel should display negative numbers.

You can also create a custom numeric format to add a word or phrase to a number in a cell. For example, you can add the phrase per month to a cell with a formula that calculates average monthly sales for a year to ensure that you and your colleagues will recognize the figure as a monthly average. To create a custom number format, click Cells on the Format menu to open the Format Cells dialog box. Then, if necessary, click the Number tab to display the Number tab page.

In the Category list, click Custom to display the available custom number formats in the Type list. You can then click the base format you want and modify it in the Type box. For example, clicking the 0.00 format causes Excel to format any number in a cell with two digits to the right of the decimal point.

Tip

The zeros in the format indicate that that position in the format can accept any number as a valid value.


To customize the format, click in the Type box and add to the format any symbols or text you want. For example, typing a dollar sign to the left of the existing format and then typing ”per month” to the right of the existing format causes the number 1500 to be displayed as $1500.00 per month.

Important

You need to enclose any text in quotes so that Excel recognizes the text as a string to be displayed in the cell.


In this exercise, you assign date, phone number, and currency formats to ranges of cells in your worksheet. After you assign the formats, you test them by entering customer data.

OPEN: EasyRead from the SBS\Excel\ChangingDocAppearance folder.

1.
Click cell B4.

2.
On the Format menu, click Cells.

The Format Cells dialog box appears.

3.
If necessary, click the Number tab.

4.
In the Category list, click Date.

The Type list appears with a list of date formats.

5.
In the Type list, click *3/14/01.

6.
Click OK.

Excel assigns the chosen format to the cell.

7.
On the Standard toolbar, click the Format Painter button.

Cell B4 is highlighted with a marquee outline.

8.
Click cell B5 and drag to cell B23.

Excel assigns the format from cell B4 to cells B5:B23.

9.
Click cell J4.

10.
On the Format menu, click Cells.

The Format Cells dialog box appears.

11.
In the Category list, click Special.

The Type list appears with a list of special formats.

12.
In the Type list, click Phone Number and then click OK.

The Format Cells dialog box disappears.

13.
On the Standard toolbar, click the Format Painter button.

Cell J4 is highlighted with a marquee outline.

14.
Click cell J5 and drag to cell J23.

Excel assigns the format from cell J4 to cells J5:J23.

15.
Click cell K4.

16.
On the Format menu, click Cells.

The Format Cells dialog box appears.

17.
In the Category list, click Custom.

The contents of the Type list are updated to reflect your choice.

18.
In the Type list, click the #,##0.00 item.

#,##0.00 appears in the Type box.

19.
In the Type box, click to the left of the existing format and type $, and then click to the right of the format and type “total”.

20.
Click OK.

The Format Cells dialog box disappears.

21.
On the Standard toolbar, click the Format Painter button.

Cell K4 is highlighted with a marquee outline.

22.
Click cell K5 and drag to cell K23.

Excel assigns the format from cell K4 to cells K5:K23.

23.
In cell B4, type January 25, 2004 and press

The contents of cell B4 change to 1/25/04, matching the format you set earlier.

24.
In cell C4, type C100001.

25.
In cell D4, type Steven.

26.
In cell E4, type Levy.

27.
In cell F4, type 6789 Elm Street.

28.
In cell G4, type Redmond.

29.
In cell H4, type WA.

30.
In cell I4, type 87063.

31.
In cell J4, type 4255550102.

The contents of the cell change to (425) 555-0102, matching the format you chose earlier.

32.
In cell K4, type 2400.

The contents of the cell change to $2,400.00 total, matching the format you created earlier.

33.
On the Standard toolbar, click Save to save your changes.

CLOSE: EasyRead.

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