Excel Column and Row Headings

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In Excel and Google Sheets, the column heading or column header is the gray-colored row containing the letters (A, B, C, etc.) used to identify each column in the worksheet. The column header is located above row 1 in the worksheet.

The row heading or row header is the gray-colored column located to the left of column 1 in the worksheet containing the numbers (1, 2, 3, etc.) used to identify each row in the worksheet.

Column and Row Headings and Cell References

Taken together, the column letters and the row numbers in the two headings create cell references which identify individual cells that are located at the intersection point between a column and row in a worksheet.

Cell references – such as A1, F56, or AC498 – are used extensively in spreadsheet operations such as formulas and when creating charts.

Printing Row and Column Headings in Excel

By default, Excel and Google Spreadsheets do not print the column or row headings seen on screen. Printing these heading rows often makes it easier to track the location of data in large, printed worksheets.

In Excel, it is a simple matter to activate the feature. Note, however, that it must be turned on for each worksheet to be printed. Activating the feature on one worksheet in a workbook will not result in the row and column headings being printed for all worksheets.

Currently, it is not possible to print column and row headings in Google Spreadsheets.

To print the column and/or row headings for the current worksheet in Excel:

  1. Click Page Layout tab of the ribbon.
  2. Click on the Print check box in the Sheet Options group to activate the feature.

Turning Row and Column Headings On or Off in Excel

The row and column headings do not have to be displayed on a particular worksheet. Reasons for turning them off would be to improve the appearance of the worksheet or to gain extra screen space on large worksheets – possibly when taking screen captures.

As with printing, the row and column headings must be turned on or off for each individual worksheet.

To turn off the row and column headings in Excel:

  1. Click on the File menu to open the drop-down list.
  2. Click Options in the list to open the Excel Options dialog box.
  3. In the left-hand panel of the dialog box, click on Advanced.
  4. In the Display options for this worksheet section – located near the bottom of the right-hand pane of the dialog box – click on the checkbox next to the Show row and column headers option to remove the checkmark.
  5. To turn off the row and column headings for additional worksheets in the current workbook, select the name of another worksheet from the drop-down box located next to the Display options for this worksheet heading and clear the check mark in the Show row and column headers check box.
  6. Click OK to close the dialog box and return to the worksheet.

Currently, it is not possible to turn column and row headings off in Google Sheets.

R1C1 References vs. A1

By default, Excel uses the A1 reference style for cell references. This results, as mentioned, in the column headings displaying letters above each column starting with the letter A and the row heading displaying numbers beginning with one.

An alternative referencing system – known as R1C1 references – is available and if it is activated, all worksheets in all workbooks will display numbers rather than letters in the column headings. The row headings continue to display numbers as with the A1 referencing system.

There are some advantages to using the R1C1 system – mostly when it comes to formulas and when writing VBA code for Excel macros.

To turn the R1C1 referencing system on or off:

  1. Click on the File menu to open the drop-down list.
  2. Click on Options in the list to open the Excel Options dialog box.
  3. In the left-hand panel of the dialog box, click on Formulas.
  4. In the Working with formulas section of the right-hand pane of the dialog box, click on the checkbox next to the R1C1 reference style option to add or remove the check mark.
  5. Click OK to close the dialog box and return to the worksheet.

Changing the Default Font in Column and Row Headers in Excel

Whenever a new Excel file is opened, the row and column headings are displayed using the workbook's default Normal style font. This Normal style font is also the default font used in all worksheet cells.

For Excel 2013, 2016, and Excel 365, the default heading font is Calibri 11 pt. but this can be changed if it is too small, too plain, or just not to your liking. Note, however, that this change affects all worksheets in a workbook.

To change the Normal style settings:

  1. Click on the Home tab of the Ribbon menu.
  2. In the Styles group, click Cell Styles to open the Cell Styles drop-down palette.
  3. Right-click on the box in the palette entitled Normal – this is the Normal style – to open this option's context menu.
  4. Click on Modify in the menu to open the Style dialog box.
  5. In the dialog box, click on the Format button to open the Format Cells dialog box.
  6. In this second dialog box, click on the Font tab.
  7. In the Font: section of this tab, select the desired font from the drop-down list of choices.
  8. Make any other desired changes – such as Font style or size.
  9. Click OK twice, to close both dialog boxes and return to the worksheet.

If you do not save the workbook after making this change the font change will not be saved and the workbook will revert back to the previous font the next time it is opened.