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: Performing Complex Sorts.

Performing Complex Sorts

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated November 30, 2019)
This tip applies to Excel 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003


By using the sorting capabilities of Excel, you can perform complex sorting of either an entire list or any portion of a list. If you want to sort an entire list, you only need to select a single cell within the list. If you want to sort a portion of a list, you need to select those rows (they must be contiguous) that you want sorted.

  1. Display the Sort dialog box. (Choose the Sort option from the Data menu.) Using this dialog box, sorting is performed according to criteria you set. (See Figure 1.)
  2. Figure 1. The Sort dialog box.

  3. Use the Sort By drop-down to select the field (or column) by which you want to sort.
  4. Use the subsequent Then By areas to specify secondary sorting keys.
  5. Specify for each sorting key whether you want that field to be sorted in ascending or descending order.
  6. Click the Options button to display the Sort Options dialog box where you can specify whether you want capitalization to matter and whether you want to sort rows or columns. (See Figure 2.)
  7. Figure 2. The Sort Options dialog box.

  8. Click on OK to close the Sort Options dialog box.
  9. Click on OK to complete your sort.

The First Key Sort Order option (from the Sort Options dialog box, step 5) probably needs explanation. You will rarely need to change the value of this field. There will be times, however, when you will want to make changes. For instance, your primary sorting key might contain days of the week (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and so on), and you want them to sort in proper chronological order. This is one of the sort orders you can specify in this field. You should pick a First Key Sort Order that most closely matches the needs of your data.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (2919) 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: Performing Complex Sorts.

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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