Flash Fill was introduced in 2013, but I have clients who are just upgrading to 2013 this year. This is the kind of feature that makes upgrading worthwhile.
Flash Fill is a new tool introduced in Excel 2013. Its a simple tool to handle a frequent problem. You have a small set of data and you need to break it apart into separate columns or join separate columns of data together.
Previously, I would have handled it with a series of text functions in Excel (LEFT, RIGHT, MID) combined with FIND and LEN if the data was complex enough. But if the data set is small, writing a formula sometimes seems like an overly complicated answer to a simple problem (why not just retype?).
Now Flash Fill is stepping in to help you handle this problem. If you give it a series of data (column orientation only) and an example of the pattern you want to extract, it will extract the data for you.
You can see once the second name is typed in the column adjacent to the list of full names, Flash Fill is able to see the pattern and offer all the first names in the list. Pressing enter autocompletes the action and the names are filled in. To do this, there can not be more than two blank columns between the source data and the resulting column. You can use the Ctrl + e shortcut to start flash fill.
You can click the Flash Fill icon to display the menu, accepting the suggestions will have all the names autocomplete.
Here is an even trickier scenario, in the list above some names have two middle initials. Using the “default” flash fill means only the second initial will display in those names. However if I return to any of the names on the list (with two initials) and correct the example to two initials, all of the two initials examples will be extracted.
I find that seriously impressive.
I can split data in a cell into multiple columns and I can also use Flash Fill to join multiple columns of data together.
The same technique used above. Note that I’ve been able to add commas and periods to the text as well.
In the same way, I can use Flash Fill to apply formatting, in this case putting a space between the first and second part of a postal code. You can also use it to format telephone numbers and date information.
I was (and still am) excited to share Flash Fill with my favourite clients. If you are interested in becoming one of my clients, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
In a previous post I showed how I entered a column of repeating dates when building my Social Media spreadsheet. The next thing I like to do, is colour code those dates so that I can see at a glance when the weekend dates are. For this I use the WEEKDAY function in Excel.
Point the WEEKDAY function at a date and it will return a number from 1 thru 7 indicating what day of the week the date is. In this case the formula reads =weekday(A2,2)
The 2 in the above formula is the return type, and here indicates that the week starts on Monday. This means that Saturday and Sunday will return values of 6 & 7.
This is perfect for using with conditional formatting.
If I plug the following formula into the conditional formatting dialog box
I am testing for values above 5, namely the weekend. So I can use this to put a colour fill in those dates so that they stand out.
Obviously, the Results column isn’t needed because the formula is actually residing in the Edit Formatting Rule dialog box.
This is the second post discussing using Conditional formatting with a Social Media spreadsheet. Check out this previous post for another example of using conditional formatting.
This post is originally from 2016. If you want help with the newest and classic features in Excel drop me a line at email@example.com
When I’m setting up my Social Media spreadsheet in Excel, I like to limit the number of scheduled Facebook entries per day. Over time, I’ve come to think that 4 Facebook entries per day is a reasonable maximum. This lets the librarian post “live” when things are happening in the library without clogging up our follower’s feeds.
So I want to create a column of dates that looks like this:
The quickest way to do this with minimal typing is to use the Fill Series dialog box. Since Excel 2007, you can find it under the Fillmenu on the Hometab.
To use the Fill Seriesdialog, select the range of cells you want your dates to be entered in. Make sure the first cell in the range has the starting date. Then select the Fillbutton and choose Series.
Enter a Step value. In this case, because I want 4 repeats of each date I’m using .25 as the Step value. If I wanted 5 repeats, I’d use .20 (and so on).
If you don’t feel like calculating how many cells to select when doing this for a date range that spans a couple of months; try using a Stop value . With a Stop Value, the series will stop at the first instance of the date entered into the field. Otherwise, the series will fill the entire selected range. ( In the picture above the full date is not displayed in the field, it was actually 06/01/2016.) Using a <em><strong>Stop Value</strong> </em>allows you to make a rough selection (say 500 cells) and Excel will stop when the series runs its’ course.
This post is originally from 2016, however Filling a series is still as useful in 2020 as it was then.
If you want help with the newest and classic features in Excel drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sometimes, when you’re teaching, its not about the complexity of the subject. Sometimes its a very simple piece of information that students get the most “mileage” out of.
When I’m teaching students MS Excel, the simplest thing that I teach them about is Named Ranges. Its the simplest thing to talk about, but the uses for ranges go on and on.
Above you see a standard Excel spreadsheet. Adding a range name or two (or ten) can help make it much easier to work with.
A range name can refer to a single cell or a group of cells, here I’ve selected the cell containing the total for the six month period (H11).
Click into the Cell address box (circled in red) and type in the desired name. There are some simple rules about naming ranges; the name can’t start with a number, can’t look like a cell reference (imagine how confusing that would be) and can’t use spaces and special characters (notice I’ve used an underscore to separate words). But after that it is up to you, to make your range name meaningful.
If you are going to add a range name to a group of cells, select them and type the name into the cell address box. The most frequent mistake students make at this point, is that they forget to press the Enterkey to confirm the range name.
Now, how do you use these range names?
First, you can quickly jump to your named ranges by using the drop-down menu. When you click on the drop-down menu in the cell address box, you’ll see a list of all the ranges you’ve added to your spreadsheet. Regardless of what sheet they are on. So you can use this to quickly jump to those cells that you work with again and again.
Second, you can replace cell references in a formula with range names. Does =SUM(January) seem easier to read and understand than =SUM(B2:B10)? Then a formula that uses range names will make your spreadsheets easier to read.
Third, you can use range names in conjunction with all sorts of other Excel tools. As an example, try using range names with the Data Validation tool.
In the sample above, a range name provides the source list for a drop-down list.
Resulting in this drop-down list. The list will update as the list of animals changes on Sheet1.
This is a more elegant solution for using drop-down lists, since it means your source lists can be kept on another sheet, and not clutter up the working area. This is something that is impossible to do, without using a range name.
So faster navigation, easy to read formulas and access to more powerful features in Excel. What’s not to love about range names?
Looking to make a powerful spreadsheet or do you want me to make it for you? Drop me a line at email@example.com
I’m a big fan of Excel’s conditional formatting feature. I use it a lot in my spreadsheets to check on the quality of data, find errors and many other tasks. Here is the first of a couple of examples of how I’m using conditional formatting in my social media spreadsheet.
Just a bit of background on the spreadsheet. I use this spreadsheet to compose Facebook Posts and Tweets for the Redcliff Library. I also use it to schedule when the posts/tweets will be published. This allows me to sit down and plan a coherent sequence of posts/tweets.
I often take the Facebook posts and cut them down to shorter lengths and reuse them on Twitter. Twitter has a character limit of 140 characters. However, I don’t want to use all 140 characters if I can avoid it. Its’ generally recognized that the ideal tweet length is around 120 characters. This length allows others to retweet and add hashtags without having to edit the tweet.
So I have created 4 conditional formatting rules to help me meet this length limit.
The background of the cell turns bright red [STOP] if the tweet is over 140 characters.
The background of the cell turns dull red if the tweet is over 135 characters.
The background of the cell turns bright orange [WARNING] if the tweet is over 125 characters.
The background of the cell turns dull orange if the tweet is over 120 characters.
Why four rules? I could use 2 warnings only; at 120 and 140 characters respectively. In fact, that is where I started. But, writing tweets can be a tricky thing and I found I needed a little wiggle room to help me when I compose. The other thing to keep in mind is that the conditional format isn’t applied until I finish editing the cell (by pressing the Enter key or the checkmark). It is possible to have an interactive format applied using VBA, but those functions are memory intensive and slow down the whole spreadsheet. Since my writing process seems to involve a lot of pauses to think, stopping to apply the conditional format isn’t really a big problem for me.
So what does it look like in action?
As a result, I can quickly identify which tweets need to be edited. Here are the 4 rules as displayed in the Conditional Formatting Dialog box.
These are formula based conditional formats.
A conditional formatting formula must return a value of TRUE in order to fire. The following formula uses the AND, SEARCH and LEN functions
If you were reading this formula in something like english it would read: “If the letters TW appear in column B AND the length of text in this cell is more that 140 charactersthe result equals TRUE”.
Why am I testing for the presence of TW in the subject column? Remember I said that I had both Facebook and Twitter posts in the same spreadsheet. I don’t want the conditional formatting to flag Facebook posts, which by their nature are longer.
When you are writing a formula for conditional formatting, do it in a cell in the spreadsheet first. The dialog for conditional formatting is really cramped and you don’t get any help features. After you are sure the formula works, you can then copy/paste it into the dialog using the Ctrl + Vkeyboard shortcut. Also, because I planned on apply this conditional format to the entire Description column ($H:$H). I had cell H1 selected when I built the conditional formula. That way the formula will adjust relatively to the entire column. Using absolute and relative references properly is another tricky part of building conditional formatting formulas.
Once I have my formula built. I can click the format button and select the background colour fill.
When I’ve built my first format successfully I can then use it for the basis of the subsequent formulas. Just changing the length of the text in the cell.
To make this really successful, the rules need to be placed in the proper order, with the Stop If True flags turned on. Now excel will check to see if the text exceeds 140 characters first, then 135, then 125 and finally 120. The Stop if Trueflag doesn’t need to be set on the final rule, because no other rules follow it.
Conditional formats can take time to build, but are extremely useful in many ways.
This post was originally published in 2015, and although the rules surrounding the length of a tweet have changed; my social media spreadsheet keeps chugging along. That is one of the things about a great spreadsheet. If you take the time to build it right, it will serve you well for years to come. Do you have a job that could be made easier with a well-designed spreadsheet? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s talk.
Even if you have no immediate need, I suggest you check out the CIRA website for some amusing and highly specific Canadian stock images. For the low price of giving credit to CIRA (who are using these images to promote the .CA domain), you can reuse and remix these amusing photos.
Normally, people save their PowerPoint presentations in the default format. However, once you are on the final version of you presentation consider using the PowerPoint Show format. Saving your PowerPoint presentation as a show is easy. Use the Save As command and use the Save As Type list to show all the possibilities. Select PowerPoint Show and save as normal.
The screen shot above is from PowerPoint 2010, but you should see a similar list in subsequent versions. The show will be saved in a different file format, using the .ppsx or .pps file extension.
The result is a change in behaviour when the file is opened. Double-click on the file and it will launch immediately into Slide Show view. Much slicker than starting the presentation, allowing the audience to view your notes, finding the slide show icon and starting the presentation. If you have a presentation that uses timed transitions and you are worried about the presentation running away on you, remove the timing from the first slide. Use a mouse click to advance to the rest of your timed slides once you are ready to start. I think you’ll find this a smoother way of launching your presentation.
If you need to edit your presentation, start PowerPoint and use it to open the show. You can edit the file as you would normally. If you wish to convert it back to a regular presentation, use the Save As command and save it in the normal file format.
I help people create dynamite presentations. Drop me an email at email@example.com and we can do amazing things!
Faced with designing a PowerPoint presentation and you don’t know where to begin? Try using LATCH to organize your material. First proposed by Richard S. Wurman (who also founded TED); LATCH offers a method of organizing your information. LATCH is an acronym that stands for; Location, Alphabetically, Time, Category, Hierarchy. Mr. Wurman’s brilliantly simple idea is that all information can be organized using one of these frameworks.
Some examples of LATCH are useful:
Organizing by LOCATION:
Diagrams; for example an anatomy diagram labeling parts of the body.
Organizing by TIME:
Schedules (for example, a bus schedule)
A manufacturing process
Organize by CATEGORY:
Retail stores organize their goods by category
Libraries separate their books into Fiction, Non-Fiction and other categories
Some kinds of information can be organized using more than one of these methods. For example a bus schedule is better understood if a map accompanies it. As the author of a presentation it is your job to figure out which method is best for your presentation or if multiple methods would bring greater clarity.
Using LATCH can help the presentation flow better and it can also help users recall more information, more effectively. Psychological studies have determined that when presented with a list of information, people can remember roughly 7 items (plus or minus 2 †). And that the longer the list is, the better chance people have of forgetting everything. So if you have 12 things to tell people, how can you help them remember?
When people have longer pieces of information to remember, they divide that information into “chunks“ that are easier to remember. Think about the telephone number 867-5309 ‡. If you are trying to memorize that number, is it easier to remember?
By “chunking” the number you reduce a longer list into 2 items.
When my husband was in university he enrolled in a course that he wasn’t really looking forward to – “The Biology of Invertebrate Animals”, because he knew that there would be a lot of memorization. But his professor did something interesting; at the end of discussing each animal, he would talk jokingly about how they would cook that animal in China (he was Chinese). The humour helped of course, but he was also categorizing the animals in an interesting way “Animals We Eat” vs. “Animal We Don’t Eat”.
In some ways, this categorization was completely artificial – students weren’t tested on Chinese recipes after all. But usefully, it provided an interesting category system that helped students to “chunk” the information and retain it. Even now, many years later, my husband can recall invertebrate information because of this categorization system.
By organizing your information using LATCH, you help your audience group it into meaningful chunks, so they will retain more information.
I have slightly updated this post from when I first published it in 2015. If you need help creating your next presentation, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or join me Friday, June 5/2020 from 9am – 12pm at Medicine Hat College for Plot A Great Talk, a 3 hour seminar dedicated to helping you create your best ever presentation. Here’s the Medicine Hat College Continuing Studies registration link.