We’ve all opened an Excel doc that makes our eyes hurt, and it’s not necessarily from the reams of data within. If you’re spending a ton of time – aren’t we all? – putting together insightful, actionable reports for clients or colleagues, you want to make sure they don’t get headaches perusing them.

Here are 6 tips for tidying up Excel sheets to look good – no matter how the performance is trending.

1)   Use an Office Theme to Keep Formatting Consistent Across All Text, Charts, and Tables


For any marketing agency, it is immensely important to maintain a strong brand image across all channels. This goes beyond your company website and those cool free logo t-shirts you try to re-gift at Christmas time. Any and every document you send to a client or a prospective client is a representation of your company’s brand image. A professional and clean Excel report projects the image of a well-oiled marketing machine that exudes competency and maintains a high attention to details. So it’s important to keep all formatting consistent across client-facing reports.

To make it easier on yourself, create a custom Microsoft Office theme that you can apply to any Excel document with a single click. First, go to the Page Layout tab in an open Excel document. In the Themes section, you have the option to customize your color pallet, fonts, and image formats.

Change these three aspects to include company branding fonts and colors, then go to Themes -> Save Current Theme. Use colors and fonts that work well together and make the report look pleasing to the eye (that subject is better left to a follow-up blog post). Once you have set up a theme, all it takes is one click to brand any and all future reports.



2)   Correctly Format All Numbers and Text

You might be fine working with numbers to the 10th decimal point, but your client wants the information to be as clear and concise as possible. The first step is to use the correct format for each cell. If it’s supposed to be a percentage, use the percentage; if it’s supposed to be a spend amount, use the currency format (and don’t be fooled by the quick-access accounting option!). Use the Format Painter in the Clipboard section of the Home tab to apply number and text formats to a large batch of data all at once.


The next step is more nuanced. Now that everything is properly formatted, be sure to simplify the numbers and percentages to make the report easier to read. That means eliminating decimal points on integer numbers, adding the thousands comma separator on larger numbers, etc. The goal is to give the minimum required amount of information to the client so that they are not slowed down by messy formatting.


Isn’t that better?

3)   Hide All Gridlines and The Formula Bar

If you have already broken out your report into tables and charts, the gridlines in the background can be distracting. Get rid of them by going to the View tab -> Show section and unchecking the “Gridlines” option. If you want to go one step further and free up some screen real estate, uncheck the “Formula Bar” option as well.


4)   Name Your Sheets Appropriately

Nobody wants to look at Sheet1, Sheet2, Sheet3… Name your tabs clearly and concisely to keep larger multi-sheet reports organized. If you have a little self-restraint, it can sometimes be helpful to color-code your tabs as well. Just right-click on the appropriate tab and select “Tab Color”. Use this sparingly, if at all, to break up larger reports into clearly identifiable sections.


5)   Leave Each Sheet Like You Found It

Always scroll each sheet back to the beginning; nobody wants to click on a tab see your sloppy, scrolled-to-the-9675th-row seconds. And while you’re at it, leave a blank cell in the upmost left-hand corner of the document with the cursor in it. Because it looks nice.

6)   Name and Date Your Document Name

Use a blunt and to-the-point document name so it is clear to the client what it contains. Adding a date to the name will help to keep yourself organized and gives you the ability to reference certain spreadsheets by their date of creation.


All of these steps might seem a little nit-picky, but every document you send to a client has the power to make you look like a competent professional or a complete hack. Take the extra few minutes to make your Excel documents look better. And if your conversion rate plummets and your revenue falls off completely, at least the numbers will look nice.

1 Comment

  1. Tim Mayes November 3rd, 2014

    Number 5 reminds me of “Be kind, rewind” in the old days of renting VHS tapes. It is still good advice. BTW, you can do this easily with the Ctrl+Home shortcut. Even better, you can select all of the sheets in a workbook and then use that shortcut to “rewind” all of the sheets at once.

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Garrett Bugbee
Garrett was an account associate at 3Q Digital. Garrett graduated from Cornell University with a bachelor's degree in Biology. He currently lives in the beautiful state of Vermont.