How to Copy and Paste Data in Excel

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  • 0:01 Copy and Paste
  • 0:41 The Clipboard
  • 1:57 The Copy & Paste Commands
  • 3:26 Paste Value & Formatting
  • 5:00 Paste Formula & Formatting
  • 6:13 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Karen Sorensen

Karen has a Bachelors in Communications. She has 25 years of experience in Information Systems, Adult Learning and Virtual Training.

If you like to save time and perform routine tasks more efficiently, the Copy and Paste commands in Excel can help. This lesson will look at the components of these commands and examples of how the commands are used.

Copy and Paste

The Copy and Paste commands are available in most of your MS Office applications. You will find them in Word, PowerPoint and, yes, Excel. However, the feature works a little differently in Excel by providing more options, such as copying numbers, formatting or both.

This lesson will introduce you to the Copy and Paste commands. We will review the different options when copying data in an Excel spreadsheet and take a detailed look at what it really means to copy and paste data in Excel. Finally, we will look at two examples of using the commands.

The Clipboard

You might ask yourself how the copy and paste function actually works. The feature uses what is called a clipboard. The term 'clipboard' refers to a temporary place where the computer stores the content that you copy. Let's use an analogy.

Mom and dad just moved, and mom calls to give you their new phone number. You write it down on a post-it-note and stick it on the fridge. The next day, your brother stops by and notices the new number for mom and dad. You write the number down on another post-it-note and hand it to your brother.

Now, the fridge is the clipboard. You read the number from the note on the fridge (this would be Copy), and you wrote it down on another note (this would be Paste). The original post-it-note is still on the fridge and will remain there until you take it down and/or replace it with something else.

When you execute the copy command, whatever content you copied goes to the clipboard. Then, you use the Paste command to enter the contents from the clipboard to another cell or range of cells. The content stays on the clipboard until you perform another copy command and replace it with something else.

The Copy & Paste Commands

In Excel, you can copy the values, attributes, formulas or all three. The value of a cell is what you see, such as numbers and text. The attribute of a cell is the formatting, such as adding preceding dollar signs, decimal places or applying cell styles. The formula is the mathematical equation that produces the number. This is why the copy/paste feature is more than just copying data from one cell to another. You have to decide exactly what content you need to copy by determining how you want to paste it.

Before we look at a couple of examples of using the commands, let's look at the tools in the ribbon. Go to the Home menu and look in the Clipboard grouping of commands. The Copy command is the small icon that looks like two pieces of paper. Clicking on this command will copy whatever cell or range of cells are selected in the spreadsheet and place it on the clipboard.

tools ribbon

The Paste command has several options. Here you can choose to paste the numbers, formulas, formatting or a combination of the different options. All the options might seem a bit intimidating, but I think looking at a couple of examples using the commands will make it easier to grasp.

Paste Value & Formatting

There are two common uses for Copy and Paste. One is to copy and paste only the numbers, or value, and the other is to copy and paste the formulas. The first example will look at working with numbers.

Assume we have a spreadsheet that details a few basic travel expenses. We have the cost of the flight, hotel and food. The costs for January have already been entered and now we need to enter February expenses. The flight and hotel costs did not change, so we can copy the numbers from January to February. We would like to copy only the numbers, as well as keep the number formatting applied to the January total.

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