A cell is the tiniest entity and the most vital building block of a spreadsheet application. All the data that the spreadsheet holds is stored in these cells. While data storage is the fundamental utility of a cell, we have built-in tools to present this data well. In this blog post, we will discuss the ways we can format cells in Google Sheets.

What exactly is formatting?

It is the process of making the looks and feels of the spreadsheet better. More often with just a few adjustments, we can make the data easier to read and aesthetically appealing. Highlighted in the image below are the set of formatting commands that Google Sheets offers.

Format cells - Illustration 2

We can broadly categorize them under number, text and cell formatting commands. To format cells, we just select them and choose an available formatting option(s) depending on our need. Please have a look at the following screenshot. Except for More formats and Merge cells formatting options, we tried to demonstrate all the others.

Format cells - Illustration 4

Please note that we can apply multiple formats on cells, that go together. For instance, the contents can be both bold and italic at the same time. However, there are certain combinations that won’t work. For example, we cannot apply number formatting on a text-based cell. Similarly, a number can’t be both a currency and a date, if that makes sense.

More formats [numbers]

We have myriad representations of a numeric value in Google Sheets. We can present it as a currency, time, date, long date, date-time, text, accounting figures etc. The More formats formatting menu option consists of all these number formatting options as shown in the snapshot below.

Format cells - Illustration 5

Apart from the pre-defined number formats, we can also go for custom options, using which we can define our own formats to suit our purposes.

A simple example

Now we know what tools Google Sheets offer to make our presentation of cell contents. Let us apply this knowledge to format cells. As an example, please consider the cells A2:D9 and F2:I9 in the image below. Both these data sets represent scores of a few students, albeit for different subjects. We left the math scores table as-is, while we did format cells from the science scores table. That way we clearly see the difference a few formatting steps create.

Format cells - Illustration 6

You will notice that the text “Student scores – Science” spans across four cells – F2:I2. But its Math counterpart is residing in just one cell – B2. You may have guessed it already. We used the Merge cells formatting option on the cell range F2:I2.

Alter cell sizes

Apart from what we discussed so far, we may have to increase or decrease the sizes of the rows and/or columns, to make the content fit the cells. To do this, place the cursor at the intersection of the column and/or row labels. The cursor changes to a 2-way arrow, and we see that the intersection appears to be thicker and blue in color. Now click and drag the row/column to adjust the sizes. Instead of dragging, we can also just double-click to let Google Sheets auto re-size the height/width to fit the cell contents.

Format cells - Illustration 7

Alternatively, select the entire row/column by clicking on the row/column header. Then right-click and choose resize row/resize column option to input the number of pixels for height/width.

Moving cells around

We often need to shift the contents of the cells around. Google Sheets lets us handle that in more than one way. Just select the cell(s) that needs moving. We see the cursor turning into a hand, indicating that the cursor is now capable of holding them. Now drag the cell(s) to whichever place is suitable within the worksheet.

Alternatively, right-click after selecting the cell(s), then choose either of the Insert [row(s)/column(s)/cells] option. However, it is worth noting that the quickest and the age-old method is the cut-paste option using the keyboard shortcut Ctrl + X and Ctrl + V.