How to alphabetise in Excel by cells, columns and rows

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 26 September 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Microsoft Excel is a well-known computer program that many people use to organise databases through spreadsheets and sorting techniques. It allows you to manage large-scale data related to finance, customer relationship management or product management by inputting minimal information into the spreadsheet. Knowing how to put data into alphabetical order in Excel can help you create well-organised documents that are easy to navigate. In this article, we discuss the advantages of alphabetising information, explain how to alphabetise data by columns and rows and describe how to use shortcuts and the 'Filter' and 'Add level' tools.

Advantages of learning how to alphabetise in Excel

Learning how to alphabetise in Excel has many business benefits, including:

  • Saving time: Organised information is typically easier to categorise and analyse. For instance, if you were to arrange a company's customers' names alphabetically, you would quickly be able to locate their information on a spreadsheet and find the one you want.

  • Eliminating duplicates: To retain customers, it's important for a company to provide excellent customer service, which requires knowing what your customer wants, what they buy and how they purchase products. An alphabetised list of customers and their data makes it much easier to spot duplicate information.

  • Creating different groupings: It may be beneficial to view all of one customer's orders together or see a list of all the customers who bought a specific product from the company. You can often optimise both processes by alphabetising the information in the spreadsheet.

  • Sharing data more efficiently: When you alphabetise data, it typically becomes easier to share with others. Multiple people can work on a spreadsheet simultaneously, so alphabetising makes the organised data easy to understand and creates a format that all users can work from.

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How to alphabetise in Excel

Knowing how to alphabetise in excel can help you sort information in Excel spreadsheets. You may also use 'ZA' or 'AZ' shortcuts to quickly organise data. This method is easy to use and ideal for small batches of information. If you want to alphabetise your spreadsheet effectively and accurately, consider using the following two methods, depending on whether you want to organise data by columns or by rows:

Alphabetising information by columns

You can follow these seven steps to alphabetise columns in Excel:

  1. Select the data you want to alphabetise by clicking on the top-left cell of the portion of the document you want to sort and dragging your cursor to highlight data. To sort all the data in a spreadsheet, no highlighting is necessary.

  2. Open the 'Data' tab by clicking the 'Data' button at the top of the page. Find the 'Sort' function on the toolbar and click it.

  3. Use the sorting menu in the pop-up window to configure how you want Excel to sort your document.

  4. Click the 'Column' menu and choose the column you want to sort by. Excel automatically offers to alphabetise data by the first column from A to Z.

  5. Click the 'Order' button and choose 'Z to A' if you want to sort your document in reverse chronological order.

  6. You can use the 'My list had headers' tool in the top right corner to allow the sorting algorithm to ignore the top row of your spreadsheet so that it doesn't alphabetise headers.

  7. Click 'OK' to apply the action you have chosen. You may undo the sorting action by pressing the 'Ctrl+Z' buttons on your keyboard.

Related: How to highlight Excel skills on your CV

Alphabetising information by rows

In some cases, it might be necessary to alphabetise data by rows. You can use the same 'Sort' function to achieve that. Follow these seven steps to alphabetise rows in Excel:

  1. Click the top-left cell of your table and drag the cursor to highlight the rows you want to sort.

  2. Open the 'Data' tab and choose the 'Sort' function.

  3. Click the 'Options' button in the pop-up menu.

  4. Change this option to sort from left to right. This way, Excel sorts the data by rows instead of columns.

  5. Click 'OK' to apply the changes. This also closes the 'Options' menu.

  6. Use the 'Row' and 'Order' menus to choose which row to sort by and in what order.

  7. Press the 'OK' button after making your selections to apply the action. You may undo this action by pressing the 'Ctrl+Z' buttons on your keyboard.

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How to alphabetise with the 'Filter' option

Another way to alphabetise your document in Excel is to use the 'Filter' function. This creates a shortcut that you can use to quickly sort your spreadsheet by columns. It also allows you to navigate through data, filter multiple columns and find blank cells. One of the benefits of this tool is that it enables you to alphabetise one column independently without changing any of the data in other columns. Here are the steps to follow to alphabetise data with this tool:

1. Select columns

Select the columns you're planning to alphabetise by clicking the top-left cell of your table and dragging the cursor to highlight the data. You can select all the columns that you want to correspond to the information you're filtering or select a single column if you want to filter it independently. If your document has no headlines, consider highlighting one row above your table.

Related: How to use an Excel month formula (guide and FAQs)

2. Open the toolbar

Open the 'Data' toolbar at the top of your spreadsheet and find the 'Filter' button. This function creates small arrows in the top row of your document. You can use these arrows to open a drop-down menu for the 'Filter' tool.

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3. Filter the spreadsheet

Click the arrow that corresponds to the column you're planning to filter. This opens a drop-down menu that you can use to choose the order. Once you choose to filter your document from A to Z or from Z to A, it automatically alphabetises your document.

Related: 12 basic Excel skills to help you advance your career

How to use the 'Add level' tool

Another tool you may use when sorting your documents is the 'Add level' tool. This function allows you to alphabetise multiple columns, one after another. For example, if your table contains employees' first names in the first column and employee surnames in the second, this tool can alphabetise them by the first name initially and then by surname. In doing so, you can alphabetise several employees with the same names by their surnames to better organise your document. Here are the steps you may follow to alphabetise your spreadsheet using the 'Add level' option:

  1. Follow the first six steps of the guide to alphabetise information by rows or by columns, depending on how you want to organise the data.

  2. Use the ‘Add level' button in the sorting pop-up menu to create new sorting levels and choose the columns or rows to prioritise when sorting information.

  3. Switch between ‘A to Z' and ‘Z to A' to adjust the order in which the algorithm sorts data at each sorting level.

  4. Click 'OK' to sort the spreadsheet in accordance with the sorting levels you chose. You can also use the 'Ctrl+Z' combination on your keyboard to undo this action.

Related: How to calculate age in Excel (with steps and functions)

How to use shortcuts to alphabetise columns

One of the simplest ways to put content into alphabetical order by columns is to use shortcuts. This method is fast and convenient for simple data sorting. Consider following these steps if you want to quickly alphabetise columns:

  1. Select the cells you want to alphabetise by clicking the top-left cell and dragging your cursor.

  2. Find the ‘AZ' and ‘ZA' buttons with an arrow in the 'Data' tab or an ‘AZ' button in the 'Home' tab.

  3. Click the ‘AZ' or ‘ZA' button depending on which way you want to alphabetise your spreadsheet.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.


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