Highlighting Individual or Multiple Cells in Spreadsheets

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When you want to edit or format data in an Excel or Google Sheets workbook, highlight those cells. All you do is select the cell or cells before you begin.

Note The information in this article applies to Excel versions 2019, 2016, 2013, 2010, Excel Online, and Excel for Mac. It also applies to Google Sheets.

Reasons to Highlight Cells

There are several reasons you may want to highlight cells. Highlighted cells are used to:

  • Format the cell or the data in the cell, such as a cell border or font color.
  • Include cell references when adding a formula to a worksheet.
  • Select a range of data to be used to create a chart.
  • Insert a cell or range of cells into a function's dialog box to act as an argument.

How to Highlight Spreadsheet Cells

There are multiple ways to highlight cells. The easiest was is to use your mouse. But keyboard lovers and others have a range of options. Here are the different ways to highlight spreadsheet cells:

  • Select cells with the mouse by using click and drag.
  • Select adjacent cells using the Shift key and arrow keys on the keyboard.
  • Type or select a range in the Name Box.

When multiple cells are highlighted in a worksheet there is still only one active cell. This means that if data is entered with multiple cells selected, the data is only entered into the active cell.

Highlight Cells Using the Mouse

If you prefer to highlight cells using your mouse, the process includes a bit of clicking and dragging.

Screenshot in Excel showing cell highlighting with the mouse

Here's how to use your mouse to highlight cells:

  1. Select a single cell. This represents the upper rightmost cell of your selection.

  2. Hover over the center of the selected cell. The cursor changes to a white plus ( + ) symbol.

  3. Click and drag the mouse to expand the selection to include other data cells.

  4. Release the mouse button to complete the selection.

Highlight Cells Using the Keyboard

If you prefer to highlight cells using your keyboard with a few shortcuts, follow this alternative method using your arrow keys.

Screenshot in Excel showing cell highlighting with the keyboard

Here's how to use the keyboard to highlight cells:

  1. Select a single cell. This represents the upper rightmost cell of your selection.

  2. Press and hold the Shift button on the keyboard.

  3. Press an arrow key (Up, Down, Left, or Right). This expands your onscreen highlight in the specified direction.

Extra Highlighting Cells Shortcuts

To highlight all cells in a worksheet, use the following key combination:

Ctrl + A

If you are using a Mac, replace the Ctrl key with the Command key on your keyboard.

To highlight all cells in a table of data, use the following key combination:

Ctrl + Shift + 8