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How to add a drop-down list in Google Sheets

Creating a drop-down list in a Google Sheets cell can speed up your data input process and now it's easier to do than ever. We'll show you how.
Written by Jack Wallen, Contributing Writer
Getty Images/iStockphoto

Most every knows what a drop-down is. Click it to reveal options from which you can choose. They make filling out forms and other types of data entry much easier.

If you are you a regular Google Sheets user, adding drop-down lists to your workflow could save you a lot of time. This is especially true if you're building a spreadsheet that requires selecting from several options over and over. It's one thing if you have to type something a couple of times, but when you have to type those same items repeatedly, that repetition adds up. 

Also: How to add conditional formatting to a Google Sheets drop-down list

Or maybe you're sharing the new Sheet with other users, and you want to limit or simplify the data entry process as much as possible. 

Ergo… drop-downs.

Creating a drop-down in Google Sheets is actually much easier than you might think, thanks to a handy, built-in GUI. In fact, since I first wrote this guide, Google has made adding drop downs even easier than it used to be. Let me show you two different methods for taking care of this handy task.

Also: What is Google Bard? Here's everything you need to know

And thus, without further ado, let's get to creating.

How to create a Sheets drop-down list the easy way

What you'll need: The only thing you'll need to follow along is a Google account and the ability to create a new Sheet within either Google Drive or Google Docs. That's it, let's get to work.

1. Select a cell and right-click

If you right-click a cell in your Google sheet, you'll see an option labeled Dropdown. Click that. 

The Dropdown entry in the Google Sheets cell right-click menu.

Creating a drop down in a Google Sheet is even easier now.

Image: Jack Wallen/ZDNET

2. Select your drop down options

A sidebar will open at the right side of the window, where you can add the options that will appear in the drop down. Make sure to name each option, select a color for it, and click Add Another Item to add to the list.

The Sheets drop-down configuration pane.

You can also apply the drop down to a range of cells.

Image: Jack Wallen/ZDNET

3. Check out Advanced options

If you expand the Advanced Options section, you can enable help text, act on invalid data, and change the display style for the drop down.

The Google Sheets drop-down advanced options.

If you enable Help Text, you can then type the text in a text field that will appear.

Image: Jack Wallen/ZDNET

After configuring the drop down, click Done and it's ready to use.

How to create your Sheets drop-down list the old way

This second, tried-and-true method is nearly as easy.

1. Open a new Google Sheets document  

Log into your Google Account and head to Google Drive. Click New > Google Sheets to create the spreadsheet.

2. Select a cell and open the GUI tool  

Click on the cell in the spreadsheet you want to house the drop-down, then click Data > Data Validation.  

The Google Sheets Data menu.

The Data menu within Google Sheets includes the tool we need to create a drop down list.

Image: Jack Wallen/ZDNET

3. Create the drop down list of details  

In the Data Validation window, you'll want to select List of Items from the Criteria drop-down and then enter the items (separated by a comma) in the text field to the right of that.  

The Google Sheets Data Validation window.

Creating the new drop-down list in Google Sheets.

Image: Jack Wallen/ZDNET

You might also check the box associated with Show Validation Help Text, as that will give the user help; should they input invalid data, they will get a warning.

After configuring your drop down list, click Save to save the information. 

Using the drop down list

After creating the drop down list, it'll appear in a sheet with a downward-pointing arrow. All a user has to do is click the drop down and select from the options you've made available .

An example of a Google Sheets drop-down list.

Our new drop down list in action.

Image: Jack Wallen/ZDNET

You might also consider adding a cell either above or directly to the left of the drop down and add content to that new cell indicating what the drop down is used for.

An explanitory cell added for a Google Sheets drop-down list.

Add a cell that explains the contents of your drop-down to make it easier for users.

Image: Jack Wallen/ZDNET

And that's all there is to adding a drop down list in Google Sheets. And here you thought it was going to be a complicated task. Next time around, we'll learn how to add conditional formatting to your drop-down lists for even more spreadsheet fun.

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