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How to create a drop-down list in Excel

Ever wondered how to be more efficient in Excel? Here's a quick step-by-step guide to creating drop-down lists.
Written by Maria Diaz, Staff Writer on

Whether you're running a business or running a home, keeping things organized is key to success. There are tons of apps and websites to help you stay organized nowadays, but I always come back to old faithful: Microsoft Excel. I just can't seem to break up with it. 

Microsoft Excel is more than just what your parents used at their desk jobs. When used effectively, it can be a rewarding tool in your arsenal, whether you're running a business, a home, or simply need a budget. Drop-down lists simplify data input, which is helpful where time is money.

How to create drop-down lists in Excel

Drop down lists in Microsoft Excel

Drop-down lists save time when entering data

Image: Maria Diaz / ZDNet

1. Select the cells where the drop-down lists are needed

Selected cells to add drop down lists
Image: Maria Diaz / ZDNet

In this example spreadsheet, there's a list of clients on the left and a column with Communication Preference on the right. We'll add drop-down lists for their communication preference, to select whether they want to be emailed, called, or texted.

2. Go to Data in your options, then select Data Validation

Go to Data and select Data Validation
Image: Maria Diaz / ZDNet

A Data Validation pop-up will appear after you click on Data Validation. 

3. Under Allow, select List from the menu

Step 3: Under Allow, select List
Image: Maria Diaz / ZDNet

In the Data Validation pop-up, go to the drop-down menu under Allow and select List.

4. In Source, enter the items for your drop-down lists, separated by a comma

Step 4: Enter data for the drop down list
Image: Maria Diaz / ZDNet

Enter the items you want to be able to choose from in your drop-down lists, each one separated by a comma.

5. Drop-down lists are ready!

Step 4: Enter data for the drop down list
Image: Maria Diaz / ZDNet

Whenever a cell is clicked on, a drop-down arrow will appear on the lower-right corner, click on the arrow and the drop-down list appears to select from. When you select an item from the list, it will populate the cell.


Do I need a formula to create drop-down lists?

No formula is needed, all you need to do is change how the type of data input, from typing to selecting. So just going to Data and altering Data Validation will do it, like the steps above.

Is a drop-down list the same as data filtering?

Though they are often mistaken, Data Filtering is different from drop-down lists. Data filtering is added to the headers of each column, so you can filter the visible data by category. For example, filter by month, place, and more. However, a drop-down list lets users select an item to fill the cell with.

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