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Add emphasis to your reports

All versions

Here we will look at a technique covered in our most recent new Excel courses - effectively highlighting key values within a report without detracting from readability. Particularly with the new conditional formatting features in Excel 2007, it is easy to use colours or graphics within cells to highlight particular value ranges, but this can make a report look too 'busy' and be distracting rather than useful unless used with great care. An alternative is to include an additional column designed just to contain a highlight 'pointer' to cells that we wish to emphasise.

Prior to Excel 2007 you could achieve this by filling your highlight column with the highlight symbol you wish to use. This may involve the use of Insert, Symbol or, prior to Excel XP, copy and paste from Word. You may also need to change the font of the relevant cells to display the symbol correctly.

Now, rather strangely, we change the colour of the font used in the cells to white to make all the symbols disappear again.

Next we highlight the cells containing the invisible symbols and use conditional formatting to change the font colour to red when our condition for emphasis is met:

We have used the 'Formula is' type of condition and set the formula to calculate the 'current' cell as a percentage of the total and compare this with a threshold value held in B2. Note that the current cell uses relative references so it will adjust for each of the rows we apply it to.

Excel 2007 only

There is an alternative method in Excel 2007. Here, we enter a formula that calculates our percentage in the highlight column – D in this case. We then select those cells and apply a conditional format based on the Format Style 'Icon Sets'. Here we have used a 3 Traffic Lights approach and based the condition on the values in cells D1 and D2:

The result is as shown here:


If we needed to match the Excel 2003 approach more closely, We could Reverse the Icon Order in the rule and make the top, red icon apply just to our 20% value - for reasons that will shortly become clear, we don't need to worry about the other two elements of our rule:

We now set up another rule applied to the same cells. This rule just checks for values below our D2 value and sets the Format to white text on a white background in order to hide the cell values:

The final step is to ensure that this new rule 'catches' all values below our trigger value, before the traffic light rule allocates different coloured icons to them. We do this by turning on the 'Stop If True' option: 

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