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Lesson 31 - Excel Sorting. Sort Data in Excel. Level 1 Free Training



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Data sorting is an extremely handy and versatile feature within Excel. The sorting feature is found by going to Data>Sort to access the Sort dialog box. Generally, sorting is performed on a list, which is defined as a contiguous (no blank cells) group of data where the data is displayed in columns and/or rows. Excel allows you to sort Worksheet data alphabetically, numerically or chronologically. You can sort by columns, by rows, in an ascending or descending order and from left to right. When you sort within Excel, it will rearrange the contents of the sort area according to the instructions that you give it. Excel will always sort blank cells to the bottom of a list.

There are a few basic rules that you need to follow when setting up your list in the first place. These are:

  • Check that any numbers in your spreadsheet are in a numerical format.
  • Cells containing both text and numbers need to be formatted as text.
  • Dates and times must be formatted correctly.
  • You must unhide any hidden rows or columns (we will cover hiding rows and columns later in this lesson).
  • Make sure you have no leading spaces. This can happen when you push your Space bar before typing into the cell.
  • Enter column labels in one row (use Alt + Enter to put a hard return in if you need to) or use the Orientation feature under Format>Cells-Alignment.

Excel has specific sort orders to arrange data within your Worksheet according to the value (not the format) of the data. If you performed an ascending sort, numbers would be sorted from the smallest negative number through to the largest positive number. If you performed a descending sort, numbers would be sorted in reverse.

Sorting Alphanumeric Text

If you performed an ascending (lowest to highest) sort on alphanumeric text, Excel will sort your data from left to right, character by character. For example, if a cell contained the text B200, Excel will place the cell after a cell that contains the entry B2 and before a cell that contained the entry B22.

Text that includes numbers and normal text are sorted in the following order:

0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 (space) ! " # $ % & ( ) * , . / : ; ? @ [ \ ] ^ _ ` { | } ~ + < = > A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z Apostrophes (') and hyphens (-) are ignored, with one exception; if two text strings are the same except for a hyphen, the text with the hyphen is sorted last.

If you are sorting logical values, FALSE will always be sorted before TRUE and if you are sorting error values, they are all equal. We will be covering logical values in the last lesson when we look at the IF function.

As a tip, although it is not really necessary with the fabulous and very handy Undo feature, it is a good idea to save your Workbook prior to performing a sort, just in case.

Letís have a go at performing some different types of sorts.

See Sort Alphanumeric Text Advanced

Single Column Sort

You will notice now that the Last Name column is sorted in alphabetical order, from the lowest value to the highest value.

Letís reverse the order from Ascending to Descending.

There are two ways you can do this.


By selecting this icon, you can effectively by-pass the Sort dialog box and perform a Descending sort. You will note that to the left of the Sort Descending icon is the Sort Ascending icon. If you have previously performed a sort on a list, Excel will remember the last sort that you did, but be aware that if you are uncertain of the last sort, your list data may not sort as you expect. In other words, if you are using a file or computer that is shared, it is always best to use the Sort dialog box.

Sorting by Multiple Columns

When you perform a multiple column sort, each column is sorted one at a time. The list will be sorted by the first column then Excel will check each of the entries to see if there are duplicates. If there are, then the duplicates will be sorted by the second column and so forth.

Now you have performed a sort on more than one column, let us have a look at sorting numbers. These will work just as efficiently as text when performing a sorting operation.

Sort by More Than 3 Columns

Excels sort feature only allows to nominate up to 3 columns to sort by, here is how to get around this. The key to this is sorting by the last key first and working back to the first key. Say you data is in Column A:E and you want to sort by A, B, C , D then E

1. Select all of Columns A:E
2. Go to Data>Sort> sort by C then by D then by E
3. Click Sort
4. Now again with Columns A:E selected
5. Go to Data>Sort> sort by A then by B
6. Click Sort

Sorting Numbers

Letís find out which Department generated the most income during the month of June.

As you can see, sorting is a very simple operation to perform with either text or numbers. You can also sort from left to right in rows, this is a little trickier, but you will find it a very handy feature to know. Let's have a go at performing a left to right sort on our Sorting with Numbers Worksheet.

As you can see, sorting, once mastered, can be a huge benefit to a user. Remember to set up your data in a list. That is with column headings (defined in some way, such as bolded and centered) and without any blank cells, rows or columns. If you donít, your sorting operation can turn into a nightmare! Remember the very handy undo key that you can use if you make an error, however, it is a good habit to get into to save your Worksheet first before performing a sort.

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