Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Excel versions: 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. If you are using a later version (Excel 2007 or later), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for later versions of Excel, click here: Understanding Outlining.

Understanding Outlining

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated July 22, 2020)
This tip applies to Excel 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003


Excel includes a feature that allows you to outline your data. This simply means that Excel analyzes your data and assigns different rows to different "levels." These levels can then be selectively hidden or displayed, depending on your needs. An outline is handy for getting a quick understanding of large amounts of data.

You can create an outline in several ways:

  • Insert automatic subtotals. Select a cell in a data list, then choose Subtotals from the Data menu.
  • Let Excel automatically outline your data list. Select the list that you want outlined, then choose Group and Outline from the Data menu, then Auto Outline from the resulting submenu.
  • Manually outline your data list. Select the data you consider to be detail information, then choose Group and Outline from the Data menu, then Group from the resulting submenu.Repeat the process for all other detail information in the data list.

Once your data is outlined, outline symbols appear at the left side of the worksheet. You can display different levels of data by using the mouse to click on the various symbols.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (2542) applies to Microsoft Excel 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. You can find a version of this tip for the ribbon interface of Excel (Excel 2007 and later) here: Understanding Outlining.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...

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