The tutorial demonstrates 4 quick ways to create an Excel data validation list (drop-down list) - based on a list of values, range of cells, named range and a dynamic dropdown. It also shows how to create a dropdown from another workbook, edit and delete data validation lists.
Excel drop-down list, aka drop down box or combo box, is used to enter data in a spreadsheet from a pre-defined items list. The main purpose of using drop down lists in Excel is to limit the number of choices available for the user. Apart from that, a dropdown prevents spelling mistakes and makes data input faster.
On the whole, there are 4 ways to make a drop down menu in Excel, and all of them have their own strong and weak points. Below you will find a quick outline of the main advantages and drawbacks as well as the detailed step-by-step instructions for each method:
This is the fastest 3-step way to create a drop-down box in all versions of Excel 2016, 2013, 2010, 2007 and 2003.
You start by selecting a cell or cells where you want a drop-down box to appear. This can be a single cell, a range of cells or the entire column. If you select the whole column, a drop down menu will be created in each cell of that column, which is a real time-saver, for example, when you are creating a questionnaire.
You can even select non-contiguous cells by pressing and holding the Ctrl key while selecting the cells with the mouse.
On the Excel ribbon, go to the Data tab > Data Tools group and click Data Validation.
In the Data Validation window, on the Settings tab, do the following:
Now, Excel users simply click an arrow next to a cell containing a dropdown box, and then select the entry they want from the drop down menu.
Well, your drop-down box is ready in under a minute. This method works well for small Excel data validation lists that are unlikely to ever change. If it's not the case, consider using one of the following options.
This method of creating an Excel data validation list takes a bit more time, but it may save even more time in the long run.
Select the entries you want to appear in your drop-down menu in an existing worksheet or type the entries in a new sheet. These values should be entered in a single column or row without any blank cells.
For example, let's create a drop-down list of ingredients for your favorite recipes:
Tip. It's a good idea to sort your entries in the order you want them to appear in the drop-down menu.
You can actually skip this step and create your drop-down list based on a range of cells, but named ranges really make managing Excel drop-down lists easier.
Tip. A faster way to create a named range in Excel is to select the cells and type the range name directly in the Name Box. When finished, click Enter to save the newly created named range. For more information, please see how to define a name in Excel.
Click in the cell where you want the drop-down list to appear - it can be a range of cells or the entire column, in the same sheet where your list of entries is located or in a different worksheet. Then, navigate to the Data tab, click Data Validation and configure the rule:
If the source list contains more than 8 items, your drop-down box will have a scroll bar like this:
Note. If your named range has at least one blank cell, selecting the Ignore blank box allows any value to be entered in the validated cell.
Instead of using a regular named range, you can convert your data to a fully functional Excel table (Insert > Table or Ctrl + T), and then create a data validation list from that table. Here's how:
Why may you want to use a table? First and foremost, because it lets you create an expandable dynamic drop-down list that will update automatically as you add or remove items from the table.
To create a drop-down box based on a range of cells, carry out these steps:
If you often edit the items in the drop-down menu, you may want to create a dynamic drop down list in Excel. In this case, your list will get updated automatically in all the cells that contain it, once you remove or add new entries to the source list.
The easiest way to create such a dynamically updated drop-down list in Excel is by creating a named list based on a table. If for some reason you prefer a usual named range, then reference it using the OFFSET formula, as explained below.
As you see, the formula is comprised of 2 Excel functions - OFFSET and COUNTA. The COUNTA function counts all non-blanks in the specified column. OFFSET takes that number and returns a reference to a range that includes only non-empty cells, starting from the first cell you specify in the formula.
The main advantage of dynamic drop-down lists is that you won't have to change the reference to the named range every time after editing the source list. You simply delete or type new entries in the source list and all of the cells containing this Excel validation list will get updated automatically!
In Microsoft Excel, the OFFSET(reference, rows, cols, [height], [width]) function is used to return a reference to a range consisting of a specified number of rows and columns. To force it to return a dynamic, i.e. continuously changing range, we specify the following arguments:
reference- cell $A$1 in Sheet1, which is the first item of your drop-down list;
colsare 0 because you don't want to shift the returned range either vertically or horizontally;
height- the number of non-empty cells in column A, returned by the COUNTA function;
width- 1, i.e. one column.
You can make a drop-down menu in Excel using a list from another workbook as the source. To do this, you will have to create 2 named ranges - one in the source book and another in the book where you wish to use your Excel Data Validation list.
Note. For the drop-down list from another workbook to work, the workbook with the source list must be open.
The dropdown list created in this way won't update automatically when you add or remove entries in the source list and you will have to modify the source list reference manually.
Open the workbook that contains the source list, SourceBook.xlsx in this example, and create a named range for the entries you want to include in your drop-down list, e.g. Source_list.
Open the workbook in which you want the drop down list to appear and create a name that references your source list. In this example, the completed reference is =SourceBook.xlsx!Source_list
Note. You have to enclose the workbook's name in apostrophes (') if it contains any spaces. For example:
In the main workbook, select the cell(s) for your drop-down list, click Data > Data Validation and enter the name you created in step 2 in the Source box.
A dropdown list created in this way will get updated on the fly once you've made any changes to the source list.
The Data Validation option is greyed out or disabled? There are a few reasons why that might happen:
In most cases, the Settings tab's options we've discussed above absolutely suffice. If they don't, two more options are available on the other tabs of the Data Validation dialog window.
If you want to show your users a pop up message when they click any cell containing your drop-down list, proceed in this way:
The result in Excel will look similar to this:
By default, the drop-down list you create in Excel is non-editable, i.e. restricted to the values in the list. However, you can allow your users to enter their own values.
Technically, this turns a drop-down list into an Excel combo box. The term "combo box" means an editable dropdown that allows users to either select a value from the list or type a value directly in the box.
And this is how your customized warning message may look like in Excel:
Tip. If you are not sure what title or message text to type, you can leave the fields empty. In this case, Microsoft Excel will display the default alert "The value you entered is not valid. A user has restricted values that can be entered into this cell."
After you've created a drop-down list in Excel, you might want to add more entries to it or delete some of the existing items. How you do this depends on how your drop down box was created.
If you've created a comma separated drop down box, proceed with the following steps:
Tip. If you want to apply the changes to all the cells containing this drop-down list, select the "Apply these changes to all other cells with the same settings" option.
If you have created a drop-down box by specifying a range of cells rather than referencing a named range, then proceed in the following way.
If you have created a named range based drop-down box, then you can just edit your range's items and then change the reference to the Named Range. All drop-down boxes based on this named range will get updated automatically.
Tip. To avoid the necessity to update the named range's references after each change of the source list, you can create a dynamic Excel drop-down menu. In this case, your dropdown list will get updated automatically in all associated cells as soon as you remove or add new entries to the list.
If you no longer want to have drop-down boxes in your Excel worksheet, you can remove them from some or all cells.
This method removes the drop-down menus from the selected cells, but keeps the currently selected values.
If you want to delete both a dropdown and the cells' values, you can select the cells and click the Clear all button on the Home tab > Editing group > Clear.
In this way, you can remove a drop-down list from all associated cells in the current worksheet. This won't delete the same drop-down box from cells in other worksheets, if any.
Once you check it, all of the cells referencing this Excel Data Validation list will get selected, as you can see in the screenshot below.
This method deletes a drop-down list from all the cells containing it, retaining the currently selected values. If you created a dropdown based on a range of cells or based on a named range, the source list will also remain intact. To remove it, open the worksheet containing the drop-down list's items, and delete them.
Now you know the basics of Excel drop-down lists. In the next article, we will explorer this topic further and I will show you how to create dependent drop down lists with conditional Data Validation and how to create a drop-down box from another workbook. Please stay tuned and thank you for reading!
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