by Jay Schroyer
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