Drop down lists can greatly facilitate data entry. Here's a look at how to use Microsoft Excel's data validation feature to create handy lists within your worksheets.
In web forms, surveys, and polls, it can be very useful to limit the choices for a selection with a simple drop down list. This is also possible in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, but the process isn't very well known or very intuitive.
In Access, you can limit user entries by forcing users to choose a value from a list control. Microsoft Office applications use the same functionality in built-in drop down lists. For instance, the Highlight and Font Color controls on most Formatting toolbars use this flexible tool. Simply click the small triangle to the right of the icon to display a list of choices.
You can create the same type of control for your users in an Excel sheet, but the process isn't intuitive. The option is in the Data Validation feature. Fortunately, once you know the feature exists, it's easy to implement. You need only two things: A list and a data entry cell. Figure A shows a simple drop down list in an Excel sheet. You can work with your own data or download the demonstration .xlsx and .xls files.
Users click the drop down arrow to display a list of items from A1:A4. If a user tries to enter something that isn't in the list, Excel rejects the entry. To add this drop down list to an Excel sheet, do the following:
Create the list in cells A1:A4. Similarly, you can enter the items in a single row, such as A1:D1.
Select cell E4. (You can position the drop down list in most any cell or even multiple cells.)
Choose Validation from the Data menu.
Choose List from the Allow option's drop down list. (See, they're everywhere.)
Click the Source control and drag to highlight the cells A1:A4. Alternately, simply enter the reference (=$A$1:$A$4).
Make sure the In-Cell Dropdown option is checked. If you uncheck this option, Excel still forces users to enter only list values (A1:A4), but it won't present a drop down list.
SEE: How to create a drop-down list in Google Sheets (TechRepublic)
You can add the drop down list to multiple Excel cells. Select the range of data input cells (step 2) instead of a single Excel cell. It even works for noncontiguous Excel cells. Hold down the Shift key while you click the appropriate Excel cells.
A few quick notes:
You can only see the drop down if you click on the Excel cell.
Your users can now only choose one of the options in the drop down. If they try to enter their own data, then they'll receive an error message.
You can copy-and-paste this drop down cell to any other Excel cells in your spreadsheet, and you can create as many different drop downs like this as you'd like.
SEE: 10 Excel time-savers you might not know about (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
A Microsoft Excel bonus tip
This Excel tip is featured in the free PDF 30 things you should never do in Microsoft Office.
Rely on multiple links
Links between two Excel workbooks are common and useful. But multiple links where values in workbook1 depend on values in workbook2, which links to workbook3, and so on, are hard to manage and unstable. Users forget to close files, and sometimes they even move them. If you're the only person working with those linked Excel workbooks, you might not run into trouble, but if other users are reviewing and modifying them, you're asking for trouble. If you truly need that much linking, you might consider a new design.
Get more Excel tips
Read 56 Excel tips every user should master and the tutorials on how to add a condition to a drop down list in Excel, how to add color to a drop down list in Excel, how to create an Excel drop down list from another tab, how to change an Excel conditional format on the fly and how to combine Excel's VLOOKUP() function with a combo box for enhanced searching. Also, check out this free PDF download: 13 handy Excel data entry shortcuts.