All Excel users should be able to activate cells and input data into an Excel Worksheet – after all, these are the most basic Excel actions. However, many Excel beginners don’t fully understand the difference between a cell being ‘activated’ and a cell being in ‘edit mode’. Even the more accomplished Excel users often don’t know all the different ways in which you can select a range of cell or enter edit mode for cell in Excel.
When you click on a cell in an Excel Worksheet, the cell is not in edit mode, it is simply activated. If you start to type, while a cell is activated, your typed text replaces the contents of the activated cell. Or, if you press the left, right, up or down arrow keys on your keyboard, this will move the activation to an adjacent cell (to the left, right, above or below the previously activated cell).
However, if your cell is in edit mode, the rules change. A cursor appears in the cell (or formula bar), and anything you type will be added to the cell, alongside the existing cell contents. Also, when a cell is in edit mode, the right, left, up and down arrow keys on your keyboard cause the cursor to move within the cell.
So now we have clarified the difference between activated cells and cells in edit mode, how do we actually activate a cell or range of cells? You can use any of the three main ways listed below:
- Single click on the cell with the mouse
- Use the left, right, up and down arrow keys on the keyboard, to navigate from a current selection, to the cell you want to activate
- Type a reference to the cell in the ‘Name Box’ on the top left of the worksheet – eg. To activate cell A2, type “A2” in the Name Box, and then press the return (or enter) key.
Note that you can easily see which is the current activated cell, as it is highlighted in Excel by a thick black border.
Often in Excel, you will want to select a range of cells. Note that, even when you have a range of cells selected in Excel, just one of the cells within the range will be activated (shown by a thick black border). This means that when if you enter data or text, this will overwrite the contents of the activated cell, and when you press the arrows keys on the keyboard, this will activate different cells within the selected range.
There are several ways to select a range of cells. You can either:
- Use the mouse to click on the start of the range and drag across the range that you want to select
- Type a reference to the cell range in the ‘Name Box’ on the top left of the worksheet – eg. To select cells A1 to D4, type “A1:D4” in the Name Box, and then press the return (or enter) key.
- Activate a cell at the start of the range, then press the SHIFT key. With the SHIFT key still selected, use the mouse to click on a cell at the end of the range.
- Activate a cell at the start of the range, then press the SHIFT key. With the SHIFT key still selected, use the left, right, up or down arrow keys on the keyboard, to increase or decrease the selected range, by one cell at a time.
- Activate a cell at the start of the range, then press the SHIFT and CTRL keys. With these keys still selected, use the left, right, up or down arrow keys on the keyboard, to increase or decrease current selected the range to the end of the current data set (note the selection will end at the next empty cell).
If you want to select an entire row or column in a worksheet, click on the row number at the left of the worksheet or the column letter at the top of the worksheet, or if you want to select the whole worksheet, click on the grey/blue square at the top left of the worksheet.
Finally, we look at the three ways to put a cell in edit mode. You can either:
- Double click on the cell
Or, select the cell you want to edit, and then either:
- Click on the Formula bar
- Press F2
You may initially think that there is no need to learn all the different methods of activating, selecting and editing cells. After all, as long as you know one way to select a range of cells, why bother to learn 4 other ways to do the same thing? However, if you use Excel a lot, you will find that different methods are more suited to different situations, and that, overall, you will soon save a lot of time by quickly selecting the most appropriate method on each occasion.