Search Not Just Numbers

Friday, 27 January 2017

Excel Tip: Setting the print area and page breaks

In this post I want to touch on a topic that I've not written a lot about on this blog - printing.

There are many settings in Excel that you can use to influence what is printed, and I'm sure I will revisit this topic to cover some more of them soon.

In this post, I simply want to focus on how to determine how a single worksheet appears on paper, when you click the Print button.

This is essentially driven by two elements:

  • The Print Area - which determines what section of the sheet is printed
  • The Page Breaks - which determine how this is spread across the physical pages printed.

Print Area

By default, the print area will be what is know as the Used Range of the worksheet. This is from cell A1 to the column of the rightmost cell with anything in it to the row of the cell furthest down the worksheet with anything in it.

This, however, can be changed by highlighting the range that you want as your Print Area and selecting Print Area, Set Print Area from the Page Layout ribbon.

If everything you want to print is not adjacent to each other, you can select multiple ranges by holding the Control key while you select them.

You can even set the Print Area as a dynamic range, but we'll leave that for a future post.

Page Breaks

Excel breaks up the Print Area based upon the settings on the Page Layout ribbon.

Here, you can set the page orientation, paper size, margins, etc. as well as set the scale, or more usefully, set the number of pages wide the Print Area should be considered to be and how many pages long (using the Width and Height settings).

These Width and Height settings are, by default, set to automatic, meaning that they will be determined by the page size and orientation, along with the scale set beneath them.

You can, however, fix them so that, for example, the whole Print Area is resized to fit on 1 page wide and 1 page tall (by setting them both to 1). Obviously, with that setting, there will be no page breaks.

Another typical setting is to set the width to 1 but leave the height as automatic. This will resize so that it is always only 1 page wide, but will insert as many page breaks as required for the height.

Most of the time, this is all you need to determine your page breaks, however, there are also times where you want the breaks to happen in specific places. You can preview where they are and move them around using Page Break Preview.

This is accessed from the View ribbon and shows blue lines where the page breaks are and a watermark telling you the page numbers. These blue lines can be dragged to wherever you need them.

That's about it, and the good thing is that all of these settings stay with the sheet, so you should only need to set them once unless the layout of the sheet changes.

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Friday, 23 December 2016

Excel Tip: Ensuring that dropdown lists start at the top (and Merry Christmas)

Before I start this post, I must first apologise for the lack of posts over recent months. After returning from my summer holidays, my workload hasn't really eased (which isn't a bad thing), and my blogging has suffered.

I wanted to get an (albeit short) tip up before Christmas, though, and it is one of my New Year resolutions to post at least once a month in 2017.

Your Christmas tip then is a simple answer to a particularly annoying aspect of data validation dropdown boxes.

A feature of data validation drodpown lists in Excel is that if the cell already contains a value from the list, the dropdown starts with that value selected, and you need to scroll up if you want to select an earlier value.

This is normally fine except for the following (very common) scenario.

It is good practice to have the dropdown list look at a range where its entries can be edited, and to leave space at the bottom of the list to allow the list to be added to.

However, a side-effect of this is that, when your cell is empty, the dropdown will start at the bottom of the list, as it sees the empty cells at the bottom as a match for the current entry (nothing).

The simplest answer I have found to this is to have a blank cell at the top of the list as well. As this matching feature matches the first match it finds, your dropdown list will now start at the top (for an empty cell).

I often find the neatest way to do this is to have a blank row under the headers that doesn't look like part of the list:

In the example above, we could use the range A2:A14 to drive the dropdown list and cell A2 would be the first match for a blank cell, rather than A12.

That's it for now, and 2016! May you and your family have a great, safe and Merry Christmas (or whatever holiday you celebrate) and a fantastic 2017.

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Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Excel Tip: Using Logic in Excel

Logic (particularly Boolean Logic) plays a huge rule in computer programming and circuitry, but is also very useful in Excel.

It is fundamental to the IF statement which in itself is such an important tool in Excel, but has many other roles.

Essentially, when we talk about logic in this context, we are talking about expressions that can either be true or false, e.g.


You can simply type the expression as a formula in a cell putting an "=" in front of it, so if you enter:


into, say, cell B1, then cell B1 will show the word TRUE if A1 is 100 and the word FALSE otherwise.

As mentioned earlier, one of the more common places to use these expressions is in an IF statement, which works as follows:

=IF(expression,value to return if expression is TRUE,value to return if expression is FALSE)



will return Yes if A1 is 100 and No if not.

Some logical functions
There are a few logical functions which extend the possibilities, in particular we will look at NOT, AND and OR.

NOT reverses the result of a logical expression.



returns TRUE, then


returns FALSE, and vice versa.

AND allows you to list multiple expressions and returns TRUE only if ALL of the expressions would individually return TRUE. Otherwise it returns FALSE.

OR works the same but returns TRUE if ANY of the expressions are TRUE.



will only return TRUE, if all three of those statements are TRUE.



will return TRUE if any of the three conditions are TRUE.

By using this type of logical expression, particularly within an IF statement, or  a Conditional Formatting condition, we can control how a spreadsheet both looks and calculates based upon the content of cells.

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Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Excel Tip: Ranking numbers in Excel

Before I start, a couple of announcements.

First of all, please accept my apologies for the time between posts. A combination of workload and a family bereavement have slowed me down somewhat!

Secondly, if any of you will be in and around London tomorrow (Wednesday) night, the ICAEW are launching their Spreadsheet Competency Framework, with some top speakers from the world of Excel. This document (as suggested by its name) is intended to provide a framework to assess spreadsheet competency, and was developed by the Institute's Excel Community Advisory Committee, of which I am a member. The event is free to attend, and further details can be found at:

I hope to see you there.

Right...on with the post.

There are many reasons, you might want to rank a list of numbers in Excel. One I do quite often, is produce a league table. By calculating the ranking of a number and then using lookups to populate a table in rank order, we can easily produce a league table, like the example below:

The first Rank column is the one we are trying to populate here.

In Excel 2010 onwards we will use the RANK.EQ function, which replaces the RANK function in Excel 2007 and before. Both functions work exactly the same, and both exist in Excel 2010 to 2016, at least. If you know you may have users using Excel 2007 or earlier, use the RANK function - otherwise use RANK.EQ to future-proof your spreadsheet.

The RANK.EQ (or indeed the RANK) function's syntax is as follows:



number is the number we want to know the rank of
ref is the whole range of numbers
order is an optional argument, which determines the order that the numbers should be ranked in. If this argument is zero, or omitted, the numbers are ranked in descending order (the largest number is ranked 1), whereas if this is 1 (or any non-zero value), the numbers are ranked in ascending order.

Where two numbers in the range are the same, they are both given the highest rank (when using the RANK.EQ function - there is a similar RANK.AVG function that gives them their average rank).

In our example the numbers 30,45,97, etc. are in the range B3:B12, so we would use the RANK.EQ function in cells C3:C12. In cell C3, we would enter:


Notice that we have fixed all of the references (using the dollar signs) on the B3:B12 range, to ensure that this range stays fixed when we copy it down, but just the column on the B3 reference so that the row (and the number we rank) changes as we copy down.

If we use this function as it is, we will run into a problem, though. As there are two number 24s in our range, we get the following:

Notice that both 24s are ranked 8 (the highest rank), which means there is no rank 9 - hence our error in the league table when we try to look up 9. We need each rank to be unique for our league table to work.

We will need to use another formula to address this, and we can use COUNTIFS to count how many instances have occurred so far in the list.and if this is greater than 1, to add the difference to the rank. Our formula becomes:


Notice that in the criteria range B3:B3, I have fixed the row on the start of the range and left it flexible on the end, so when our formula is copied down, we are always counting the instances from the top of the column to the current row. By the end of the range, our formula is:


On the first 24, our RANK.EQ function returns 8 as before, and our COUNTIFS counts that there is 1 24 so far, so:

8+1-1 = 8

On the second 24, our RANK.EQ function again returns 8, but our COUNTIFS now counts that there are two 24s so far, so:

8+2-1 = 9

thereby giving us the result we required:

The league table was created by entering the numbers 1 to 10 in the first column and using INDEX and MATCH to return the number at that rank from the first table.

The INDEX/MATCH function on the first row (row 3) was:


If you did not understand the COUNTIFS or INDEX/MATCH functions, please visit these earlier posts:

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