How to Highlight Cells in Excel

How to Highlight Cells in Excel
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  • 0:01 The Highlight Term
  • 0:44 Highlighting to Select
  • 3:20 Highlighting to Draw Attention
  • 5:08 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.

Highlight is a term that can be used two ways in Excel. You can highlight or select cells that you want to edit, or you can highlight cells by adding a background color to draw attention. This lesson will explain and demonstrate both.

The Highlight Term

Point out, draw attention to, focus on and accentuate are among the many synonyms for the word 'highlight.' Technically, in Excel, highlight means to select a cell or range of cells. However, sometimes the term 'highlight' is used to describe two different operations.

The first is to highlight or select cells to edit the data, or it may be to apply data formatting; for instance, formatting numbers and dates. The second is to highlight the cell or range of cells by drawing attention to them using fill colors, borders and applying color to the data itself.

Let's begin with highlighting cells in order to select them for editing and formatting.

Highlighting to Select

Before you can perform any work in a cell or format a range of cells, they must first be selected. Once you select your desired cells, Excel highlights them so they stand out. This allows you to easily see what cell or range of cells has been selected, thus the term 'highlight.'

There are three ways to highlight cells.

  1. Click, hold and drag your mouse. This is the most popular.
  2. Click on the first cell in the range, and then hold down your Shift key while you click the last cell in the range.
  3. Enter the range in the Name Box.

Let's use an example to demonstrate all three. We have a spreadsheet with our personal budget:

personal budget spreadsheet

Along with monthly allowances for mortgage, utilities, groceries and so on, we have a row that contains the total budgeted for each month. Currently, there is no number formatting applied to the totals, so let's apply a currency format. This will add a couple of decimal places and a preceding dollar sign. Before we can apply the formatting, we need to select the cells with the totals, or highlight them.

  1. Hold and drag. You're going to left-click with your mouse in the first cell of the row, hold the click and drag your mouse to the last cell of the row and then release. Notice how the cells are now highlighted and we can apply the currency format (please see the attached video at 02:15).
  2. Shift key. Click with your mouse in the first cell of the row, then hold down the Shift key and click in the last cell of the row. We get the same results as a click, hold and drag. Some people are more comfortable using keys to simulate the 'hold and drag' operation of the mouse.
  3. Name box. This is seldom used, but it's all keyboard commands. So for those of you who struggle with the mouse, this is perfect for you. Just under the ribbon menu, in the upper, left-hand portion of the screen, you will find the Name Box. Here you can type in the range of cells to highlight. For example, if you want to highlight cells B3 through H3, you would type 'B3:H3.' Notice the colon (:) separator between the two cell addresses. Excel will highlight, or select, the range and no mouse click or movement is required.

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