Outline Image source: FreeImages.com/ Saïvann

When I do a walk about day on clients sites, I come across many people who work with enormous spreadsheets. They have columns of formulas referring to several columns of data then another column of formulas referring to the next block of data and so on. I watch them laboriously hide columns they don’t want to see for a while then unhide them later on. I feel for those who do not know that rather than just hiding blocks of columns so that they just see the subtotals, they can use something called ‘Outlining’ to do that for them and then use the feature to manage that data more effectively.

Outlining is a lovely feature that looks for blocks of data with a formula at the end, be it vertically in a column or horizontally in a row. It is created automatically for you.

Here is a sample data sheet.

Basic outline sheet

As you can see there are formulae every fourth column across the sheet as well as in a few rows. Notice too that the data is in one block with no column or row that is totally empty, thus keeping the whole piece together.

How to use Outlining

  • Click in one cell inside the data area.
  • From the Data Tab in the Outline section at the end.


Data Tab

  • Select the Group Tool.

Group Tool

  • From the list Select Auto Outline.

This is what appears next.

1st Result

Notice that there are long lines to the extremities of the sheet on the left and at the top. These are the Outlining groups.

At the moment you can see all the data and the result cells.

From the vertical selection of numbers to the left of column A

Outline settings

  • Select the number 2.

This is the result.

2nd Result

Excel has collapsed the data columns that make up the results in columns E,I,M,Q and R.

You can just make out the hidden columns.

How to expand a group.

To expand just one part of this sheet select one of the Plus signs above the column names.

Result looks like this.

3rd Result

How to see just the grand totals

If you want to see just the final grand totals select both no 1 boxes in the outer edge of the sheet.

The result looks like this.

4th Result

None of the data has been deleted. It has been hidden to be revealed at a later time when necessary.

Hope you enjoy this feature.


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