Excel.Tips.Net ExcelTips (Menu Interface)

Understanding Column Widths

You may have noticed that Excel uses a strange way to specify column widths. Next time you open a new workbook, take a look at the widths of your columns. Have you ever wondered how Excel comes up with widths such as "8.43?"

The answer lies rooted in history somewhere. The default column width is specified as a number of characters. Thus, "8.43" as a column width means that 8.43 characters--in the default font--can fit within the width of the column.

This used to mean something very understandable in the "olden days" before proportional fonts came on the scene. When monospace fonts ruled the computer world, you knew that there were either 10 or 12 characters per inch. VisiCalc (the first spreadsheet program) and Lotus 1-2-3 (the first gangbusters program for the IBM PC) both allowed you to specify column widths as a number of characters. MultiPlan (the ancestor to Excel) followed the same practice, and that practice carries forward to this day.

A good way to test this is to look at how many digits you can get in a column, since each digit is the same width as any other digit in a given font. If the column width is 8.43, then you can get 8 digits (12345678) in the cell without Excel making it wider or changing to scientific notation.

If you want to find out the default font being used by Excel--and thus on which the column widths are based--then choose Options from the Tools menu and click on the General tab. The default font specification is indicated and may be changed on this tab.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (2121) applies to Microsoft Excel 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003.

Related Tips:

Excel Smarts for Beginners! Featuring the friendly and trusted For Dummies style, this popular guide shows beginners how to get up and running with Excel while also helping more experienced users get comfortable with the newest features. Check out Excel 2013 For Dummies today!


Leave your own comment:

  Notify me about new comments ONLY FOR THIS TIP
Notify me about new comments ANYWHERE ON THIS SITE
Hide my email address
*What is 5+3 (To prevent automated submissions and spam.)
           Commenting Terms

Comments for this tip:

There are currently no comments for this tip. (Be the first to leave your comment—just use the simple form above!)

Our Company

Sharon Parq Associates, Inc.

About Tips.Net

Contact Us


Advertise with Us

Our Privacy Policy

Our Sites


Beauty and Style




DriveTips (Google Drive)

ExcelTips (Excel 97–2003)

ExcelTips (Excel 2007–2016)



Home Improvement

Money and Finances


Pests and Bugs

Pets and Animals

WindowsTips (Microsoft Windows)

WordTips (Word 97–2003)

WordTips (Word 2007–2016)

Our Products

Helpful E-books

Newsletter Archives


Excel Products

Word Products

Our Authors

Author Index

Write for Tips.Net

Copyright © 2016 Sharon Parq Associates, Inc.