How to Alphabetize in Excel (With Benefits and Steps)

Updated September 30, 2022

Microsoft Excel is one of the most widely used spreadsheets to help businesses and individuals keep track of important information, such as customer lists or financial records. Alphabetizing your spreadsheet organizes your data, so it's more readable and the information you're looking for is easier to find. Knowing how to alphabetize a spreadsheet can be a useful skill in the workplace, especially if you're in charge of managing large amounts of data. In this article, we discuss the benefits of learning how to alphabetize columns and rows in Excel and explain how to do so using various methods.

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Benefits of learning how to alphabetize in Excel

There are many advantages to learning how to alphabetize in Excel, including:

  • Saving time: When you have organized information to work with, it's much easier to find what you're looking for. If you have thousands of customers, for example, sorting them in alphabetical order makes it quicker to find the name you might be looking for.

  • Eliminating duplicates: After you organize your spreadsheet, it's much easier to spot duplicates in your data. Finding these means you're less likely to miss information about a certain customer, for example. If their record exists in two places without your knowledge, you may miss vital information that could influence their future decision to purchase something.

  • Creating different groups: Sometimes, you might want to compile data about who purchased a certain product or find a list of customers who live in a specific geographic region. By alphabetizing data using the product name or their location, you can easily group them together.

  • Sharing data more efficiently: Organized data is more readable for everyone on your team. This makes the information easier to share, consume, and use. Since alphabetizing is a common way to sort data, most people can understand your spreadsheet and get the information they need.

Related: Advanced Excel Skills: Definitions and Examples

The basics of data sorting in Excel

In Excel, you can quickly sort data using a variety of built-in spreadsheet functions. Along with sorting alphabetically, you can also sort by other criteria, such as ascending and descending numbers or dates. To understand how to sort data in Excel, it's useful to understand what "Sort" and "Filter" mean:

  • Sort: The "Sort" function allows you to sort information by dates, numbers, days of the week, months of the year, the alphabet, and by various other properties.

  • Filter: The "Filter" function allows you to see only the information that applies to your specific purpose and is another way to access your data quickly. It's often better to sort your data rather than filter it, so it's always organized.

How to alphabetize in Excel: specific cells

Excel spreadsheets comprise columns and rows that made up of rectangles called cells. If you want to alphabetize a specific group of cells in a column or row of a spreadsheet, follow these steps:

  1. Click on the first cell in the group you want to alphabetize.

  2. Drag your cursor down to the last row you want to include.

  3. Then follow the steps listed in the relevant section below to sort your data.

Ensure there are no blank cells in the data you've selected because Excel only sorts the cells before the first blank one.

Related: A List of Intermediate Skills in Excel to Include in Your Resume

How to alphabetize in Excel: columns

Whether you choose to sort or filter your information, both methods are easy to use and follow the same basic steps. To find these functions, locate the "Data" tab in your toolbar and click on the "AZ" icon.

Follow these steps to alphabetize your data:

  1. Highlight the column you want to alphabetize by clicking the letter at the top to select the whole column.

  2. Click on the "AZ" icon in the toolbar.

  3. Choose whether you want them arranged in ascending (A to Z) or descending (Z to A) order. Some versions of Excel offer both the "AZ" and the "ZA" icons in the toolbar without having to click on "Sort."

  4. Click "OK," and check your sorted data.

If your spreadsheet contains two columns, you can use the "Sort AZ" function to put one column in alphabetical order, and Excel automatically rearranges the data in the second column to keep the corresponding information together. For example, if the first column has a customer name and the other has the product they bought, alphabetizing the first column automatically matches the customers with the correct product.

Related: 5 Basic Excel Skills and How to Include Them in Your Resume

How to alphabetize in Excel: multiple columns

Sometimes you might want to alphabetize data across multiple columns. For example, you might have a spreadsheet that lists a customer's first name, last name, location, email address, and the date of their last purchase, and you want to organize the data by the city they live in. To keep all the corresponding information together, start by highlighting your data as follows:

  1. Select all the columns you want to sort by clicking on the header of the first column and dragging your cursor across all the applicable columns.

  2. You can also highlight the entire spreadsheet by clicking the top left corner of the spreadsheet or by using "CTRL+A" on a Windows computer or "Command+A" on a Mac.

  3. Click on the "AZ" icon to bring up the dialogue box.

  4. Under "Column," select which column you want to use to sort your data.

  5. Under "Sort On," select "Cell Values" from the dropdown menu.

  6. Under "Order," select "ascending" or "descending" depending on your preference.

  7. Click the "OK" button.

How to alphabetize multiple categories using "Add Level"

Sometimes, you might want to sort data by additional parameters. For example, you might have a list of alphabetized customers grouped with the products they bought, but you also want to see what city they live in so you can decide where to target your next advertising campaign. You might also want to see the date of their last purchase to ensure they're ready to buy again.

You can do this with the "Add Level" function. To execute the example above, follow these steps:

  1. Follow the steps listed above for sorting multiple columns, using your customer names column, and click "OK."

  2. Click on the "AZ" icon, and then click "Add Level."

  3. Repeat the same steps as above, but change the column to the one with the product name, and then click "OK.”

  4. Click on "Add Level" again, choose the column with the city name, then click "OK."

  5. Click on "Add Level" one more time, and sort again using the column with the order date. Click "OK," and now you can use your sorted spreadsheet.

Related: How to Learn Data Entry and Available Career Options

How to alphabetize in Excel: rows

Sometimes you might want to sort by rows instead of columns. The process for sorting by rows is similar to sorting by columns. To do so, follow these steps:

  1. Highlight your data, and click on the "AZ" icon, as usual, to bring up the dialogue box.

  2. Click on the "Options" button at the top of the dialogue box.

  3. This brings up another dialogue box with the option to select "Sort left to right." Click on that, then click "OK."

  4. The original dialogue box now says "Row" instead of "Column," and on top of the first field, it also says "Row."

  5. Choose "Row 1."

  6. Sort on "Cell Values."

  7. Select "Order A to Z."

  8. Click "OK."

If you want to alphabetize multiple rows, follow the same steps as those listed for sorting multiple columns once you've selected the "Row" option outlined in the steps above.

Related: Everything You Need to Know About Data Science as a Career

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How to use custom lists to alphabetize without the alphabet

Sometimes alphabetizing data isn't the best way to sort it. For example, dates are more effective if organized chronologically rather than alphabetically. If you want to organize your data by days of the week, for example, follow these steps:

  1. Click on the "Sort" icon, and choose the column that contains the days of the week.

  2. Sort on "Cell Values" as usual.

  3. Next, click on "Custom Lists" instead of choosing "A to Z" or "Z to A."

  4. A new box opens where you can create your own list. There are also some pre-sets available to choose from, including days of the week. Click on that one.

  5. Click "OK" to confirm your list selection.

  6. Click "OK" to complete the sorting.

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