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How to Make Your Excel Spreadsheets Look Professional in Just 12 Steps

How to make excel look more professional

Let me start with a scenario. Let's say that I'm speaking to a group of young college graduates (poor fools, but I digress). They have all graduated with various degrees.

Now, one of them asks, “What is one technical skill that will help us land jobs?”

Without hesitation, my response would be, “Learn to use Microsoft Excel better than your peers. Learn everything about it that you can. Learn how to make attractive spreadsheets. Work to understand the basic formulas and understand the ways that Excel can be utilized to make your job (or even better yet, your boss's job) easier.”

How to Make a Spreadsheet

Excel is not sexy (to most people), but it is such a staple of modern business that knowing how to make it dance and sing can separate you from your peers. Understanding how to make a spreadsheet and formatting it professionally will take you places in business.

This goes for entrepreneurs as well.

Due to the nature of Excel, it will never lose its functionality. The desire to view data clearly will always exist. That is what Excel is at its core. A program that helps you see numbers and understand data easily.

It is important to have a well-formatted spreadsheet because it helps reduce the risk of errors, inconsistencies and misinterpretations.

It takes awhile to learn the inner workings of excel.  The macros, pivot tables, and more technical functions need practice and patience to master.

Even without the complexities of Excel, you can make yourself look like a pro by styling your sheet well. The minor changes I am going to show you make your excel spreadsheets look professional, fast.Download for free

#1 Correct Your Alignment

The tendency is to center our text in cells.  This is not the best way to do this. By centering some text and not others, you make the content uneasy on the eyes. Spreadsheets are for skimming over, so making them easy to read is paramount.Fix: Give your data a strong, left alignment to text and a right alignment to numbers. This will look boring for now but stay with me. Note: If you have a main title, that is the exception to the rule and should be centered across the data. I discuss this more in step 7.Excel Cell Allignment

Proper cell allignment

#2 Distinguish Your Headings

It is important that your headings stand out. Use any combination of bold, underlining and different size fonts for headers. This helps create clear separation from the corresponding data.

Bad Excel Example

Correct Headers in Excel


#3 Use Fewer Colors

Some color is a necessity to create an appealing spreadsheet. Emphasis on the word “some.”Limit your color usage to two per sheet at the most. I recommend you use a light background with a dark font. The purpose of color is the same as with bold, underlined and different sized fonts. You are trying to make the document easier to read.Tip: Can't decide on a font or color scheme? Use one of excel's built in themes.

Wrong Excel Colors
Correct Headers in Excel
#4 Leave “Row 1” and “Column A” Empty

Don't make your spreadsheet a claustrophobic nightmare, give yourself room to work. Don't be afraid to leave the printable area of a spreadsheet. Most spreadsheets these days stay digital and are rarely printed. If you must print, you can use “fit to page” and still maintain your spreadsheet on one page.

Leave Column A and Row 1 Empty

Leave Column A Row 1 Blank

#5 Remove Your Boarders If Possible

Just because you are making a spreadsheet doesn't mean it needs to look like such a …. spreadsheet! If you use zebra striping appropriately, you will be able to have an attractive, easy to read spreadsheet that looks professional.
Excel Boarders
Correct Headers in Excel

#6 Use Either Calibri or Arial Font

Spreadsheets are for business. Keep your spreadsheets looking professional with one of these simple, sans-serif fonts. It is ok to use both of these fonts on a spreadsheet to distinguish headers from data, but do not use more than these two. The font in the first example is called Apple Chancery and the one below that I have labeled “correct” is good, old-fashioned Calibri.

Poor font usage in Excel
Correct Headers in Excel

#7 Center Your Title Across Your Spreadsheet

I know I said to use a strong left indent and to not center your text, but the title is the exception. Do not mess with merging cells, simply select the region over the data and select “center across selection.” Merging cells can complicate things down the road, so avoid it as much as you can.

Bad Title Centering Excel

Center Title on Excel spreadsheets

#8 Format Row Height and Column Width

Don't be a slave to the default column and row sizes. Before you consider merging cells, adjust your margins to fit your data better without losing readability.

#9 Use Simple Graphs and Tables to Better Display Data

The object is clarity, so adding visuals is a great way to improve comprehension and overall understanding for whoever is viewing the spreadsheet. If you use multiple graphs and/or tables, be sure to center them with one another.

#10 Organize Workbooks into Worksheets and Label Them Clearly

Few people utilize the tabs of workbooks. FYI: The tabs represent worksheets and the collection of these worksheets is called a workbook. Instead of cramming all of your data onto one sheet, consider adding worksheets (tabs). Name them appropriately and give them color for clarity.

Worksheets and Tabs

#11 Strategically Freeze Panes


  1. Select row or column directly below the row or column you wish to freeze. In this instance, I have selected row 2 and plan to freeze row 1.
  2. With the entire row selected, navigate to “Window” in the top menu bar.
  3. Select “Freeze Panes” and you will have frozen the desired row or column.

“Freezing a pane” just means that a row or column will remain visible if you scroll around the spreadsheet. If you have a lot of data, it can be helpful to freeze the pane for the headings.

12. Use “Zebra Stripes” to Distinguish Long Rows of Data

Worksheets with multiple rows of data that spread across multiple columns can be difficult to read. Use a very light color for every other row of data for the best appearance and maximum readability. I recommend using the lightest shade of gray to create the most professional looking spreadsheet.

Keep in mind, the purpose of these changes is to make your data easy to read. Minimalism is great when making spreadsheets. With each change, ask yourself, “is this going to make my spreadsheet easier to read?” If the answer is yes, make the change. Learn these basic formatting tricks before you worry about the more sophisticated processes of Excel. Poor presentation can ruin good data.

There you have it, 12 easy to implement moves that will make your excel spreadsheets look more professional.

Now, go forth and prosper!

About the author

Nate McCallister

Nate is the founder and main contributor of EntreResource.com. He is a lifestyle entrepreneur who spends his time building businesses and raising his two kids Sawyer and Brooks with his beautiful wife Emily. His main interests include copywriting, economics and piano.


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