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Excel 2010: The Missing Manual by Matthew MacDonald

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Chapter 5. Formatting Cells

When you create a basic workbook, you've taken only the first step toward mastering Excel. If you plan to print your data, email it to colleagues, or show it off to friends, you need to think about whether you've formatted your worksheets in a viewer-friendly way. The careful use of color, shading, borders, and fonts can make the difference between a messy glob of data and a worksheet that's easy to work with and understand.

But formatting isn't just about deciding, say, where and how to make your text bold. Excel also lets you control the formatting of numerical values. In fact, two aspects of formatting are fundamental in any worksheet:

  • Cell appearance. Cell appearance formatting is all about cosmetic details like color, typeface, alignment, and borders. When most people think of formatting, they think of cell appearance first.

  • Cell values. Cell value formatting controls the way Excel displays numbers, dates, and times. For numbers, this includes details like whether to use scientific notation, the number of decimal places displayed, and the use of currency symbols, percent signs, and commas. With dates, cell value formatting determines what parts of the date the cell displays, and in what order.

In many ways, cell value formatting is more significant than cell appearance formatting, because it can change the meaning of your data. For example, even though 45%, $0.45, and 0.450 are all the same number (just formatted differently), your spreadsheet readers ...

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