Join Dennis Taylor for an in-depth discussion in this video Understanding short list and long list variations, part of Excel 2010: Data Validation in Depth.
To simplify data entry and save a lot of time and ensure accuracy, you can use Excel's data validation capability that forces entrants to pick from a list. Imagine in column B here--we'll start with a small example--the only entries we want to see here in column B are Full Time, Half-Time, Hourly, and Contract. At the moment those words are found over here in column J. In other words, they exist in the form of a list. Now eventually, we would might want to put these elsewhere, but for starters, it's okay to have them there.
Let's click column B because we want the entire column to be able to contain only those entries that we currently see in column J. Then on the Data tab, choose Data Validation. The Allow option here is List. Click in the panel for Source. We don't have to collapse the dialog box; simply jump out and highlight these cells. Click OK. In column B now, we see the drop arrow. Choose the one we want. Come down to the next one.
If you're going through the list somewhat faster, or you're looking on the sheet of paper, you might consider using the keyboard. It's Alt+Down Arrow. There are your choices. Use the arrow key, come to the one you want, press Enter. And we don't necessarily have to do them in order, but you can use Alt+Down arrow in any of these cells. That's certainly one method. The other method, the mouse: same idea, same approach. Do not type the first letter. You might be fooled into thinking that's going to work okay. If, for example, I put in the letter C here and press Enter, puts in Contract like that.
That's only because it's already existed there up above. So you might find that working for you, but don't count on that, particularly if you've got a list with entries that begin with the same letter. If I type H and I am thinking Half-Time, well, that's not Half-Time; it's Hourly. Click the drop arrow. Choose Half-Time, if that's what we want. Now with States here, we've got more States than just four, of course, the order of these we'll talk about it little bit later, but here's a list of the states. They're in population order. Same idea, column C here, Data Validation, Allow, List.
The source of this is column K. Rather than clicking the column letter, it's best to highlight the actual cells and then click OK. Even more typing is going to be saved here, particularly with the longer states. They're in the same order that we see them over there on the right. Notice one difference here. When you have more than eight entries, you will see a scrollbar here, and so the order of these starts to become a bit more important. Maybe this is Pennsylvania, and so on. Fast and easy.
Not only are we saving time, we're not going to misspell words like Massachusetts and some other unusual spellings in there as well. And even more powerful would be what we're about to do in column D. Same idea, but look at the list in column L. Substantially wider for some of those entries, and many people misspell Environmental, and there are certainly some other variations in here that you should be thinking about as well. What if it's important to you that the names of some of these organizations do contain an ampersand, for example, the way we see here? Or maybe this doesn't have a period behind it.
You want some kind of standardized way to display certain names here, and you want these to be consistent all the time, particularly if a worksheet is going to use some logic that needs to check for the spelling of these. So by providing a list for people, you automatically screen out those typos and you standardize the entries. One more time here in column D, Data Validation, Allow, List. Click in the Source panel, jump out and highlight cells L1 down to the bottom. Click OK.
Same idea, easily found, and think of all the typing that we're not doing as we make these choices. The pick list idea, the dropdown list, is for many people the major reason for using data validation.
- Testing for whole numbers and decimals
- Using the input message box
- Sequencing and placing lists
- Creating multi-tiered lists
- Setting date and time limitations
- Limiting text length
- Locating data validation rules