Keeping Your Spreadsheet Simple And Easy-to-read
When confronted with a mountain of data that you need to sift through and organize, nothing can make your job faster and easier to understand than an effective spreadsheet. When it comes time to share this information with others, you will be able to quickly and succinctly offer your findings for their consideration in an easy-on-the-eyes-and-brain form. Without having to completely learn Excel, you can create an idyllic spreadsheet template that you can use over and over again to present new information just by changing the data in your cells. With so many options available in spreadsheet programs like Excel, you need to consider which ones will work best for your project. Here are a few things to keep in mind while constructing your spreadsheet.
Fit to Screen, Fit to Page
Although your wealth of information may warrant it, don’t make a spreadsheet that is a massive three to four screens long. A spreadsheet of this caliber is no fun for anyone especially on screen. Rolling around a spreadsheet that size, especially one you aren’t familiar with, can become quite frustrating. Under the “Print Preview” option, you can force the printer to fit the document to one page, but then everything is decreased in size and makes it even harder to read the information. Consider multiple pages if your spreadsheet needs the space, but be sure to make the breaks in the pages or information logical. You do not want to add more confusion by trying to prevent confusion. Ultimately, it would be best if users can view the spreadsheet at 100% and it fits your screen. If a user has to decrease the view size to view the spreadsheet in its entirety, then the information becomes harder to read.
You should choose one type of font and consistently use it throughout the spreadsheet. The only exception would be titles or headings. The use of a different font will make it that much easier to differentiate between titles and data. Look for a font that is without serifs as they are easiest on the eyes. I would stick with black type, but if a cell calls for more emphasis, you may want to use a different color to signify a positive or negative. Use bold and italics when appropriate to let this information stand out from the rest. These features are outstanding for titles and headings. Try to make the font as large as you can to fit in the cell. Ten point is a good and readable size. There’s nothing worse than having to squint to read the information on your spreadsheet. If you can’t read it, chances are good that the people you’re preparing the spreadsheet for won’t be able to read it either.
Depending on your information, you may want to adjust where the information falls within the column. Try left, center, or right and see how it reads. I generally find that numbers and dates are best centered and that text seems to work with a left justification as full sentences or phrases are read left to right. But again, try the different methods and see what works best for the data that you are presenting. Allow sufficient space around the information in the cells by adjusting the column width. Excel offers a feature that allows you to double-click on the end of the cell column and it automatically adjusts to fit all of your information.
If you look under the “Format Cells” menu that appears when you right-click on a cell or selected cells, you’ll see a multitude of choices as far as borders, colors, patterns, and number options for your cells. Borders should be used to contain your data within the cells and provide nice straight lines for your readers to follow. You can emphasize headings with thicker point borders or even dashed or dotted lines. Try to remain consistent throughout your spreadsheet. If all of the headings have a three point border than continue that throughout the document. The use of color in your spreadsheet is an extremely important consideration. Color can help emphasize particularly important data and separate it from the rest of your information. Spreadsheets that feature a lot of accounting data often use red to show failing areas and green to signify profiting ones. Choose your color schemes wisely as you do not want to obscure the data presented in the cells. Black type on a dark burgundy background would not make for easy reading just as white type on a fuscia background would not make for a pleasant experience either. Try pastels as they are easier on the eyes and allow for an easy read.
Patterns are good to use if you want to identify an area as defunct or currently not in use. Some use a strikeout on the information already there, but a pattern can leave the information fairly easy to read, but at the same time provide a kind of “construction area” type look to signify that this information is not currently in use on the spreadsheet.
The number options refer to the type of information you’re placing in the cell. If you tell Excel that you are entering currency numbers, then it will automatically add the dollar sign (or others if using a different currency) and decimal point as you enter numbers. This is a great setting when you are adding dates as well because it will place your data into whatever date format you prefer.
Do not be afraid to take advantage of the formula options in Excel. You can make them as complex or as simple as you want or need. A very simple one is the SUM feature that will add a column of numbers for you and provide the total in whichever cell you specify. As the information in the cells changes, the sum in the total cell will adjust accordingly. This is a great option for presenting budgetary numbers or inventory type items. There is a formula wizard, which will help you string together any number of data sequences and configurations.
Spreadsheets can be your most effective and powerful tool in your business arsenal if you take advantage of the multitude of options and features available. Learning how to appropriately use these features will not only make your presentation stronger, but also provide you with a simple means of sorting and organizing data. The data is important, but will mean nothing if it isn’t presented in a palatable form.
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About the Author:
Jay Schroyer has worked in the client and customer service end of business for over five years in retail, advertising, and printing. He holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree in English writing and communication.
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