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: Creating a Sort Order.

Creating a Sort Order

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated March 17, 2018)

There are times when a normal sorting order just doesn't cut it. Instead, you need a special sorting order that fits the type of data you are working with. In the previous tip you learned that you can instruct Excel to sort by a special sorting order, such as days of the week. You can also easily create your own sorting orders.

For instance, let's assume you have a field that can contain the name of one of four colors—Black, Red, Green, and Orange—and that you wanted your list sorted in that order. The problem is, Excel would normally sort this list alphabetically—Black, Green, Orange, and Red. The solution is to create a custom list that has the color names in the order you desire.

To create a custom list, follow these steps:

  1. Select Options from the Tools menu. Excel displays the Options dialog box.
  2. Make sure the Custom Lists tab is selected. (See Figure 1.)
  3. Figure 1. The Custom Lists tab of the Options dialog box.

  4. Select the NEW LIST option from the Custom Lists list.
  5. In the List Entries portion of the dialog box, start typing the order in which you want the elements sorted.
  1. When you are done, click the Add button.
  2. Repeat steps 3 through 5 to define any other lists desired.
  3. Click OK to finish.

In step 4 you need to enter information in the List Entries area of the dialog box. For this example you would type the following:


Make sure you press Enter at the end of each element and that what you type matches exactly the possible contents of the sorting field. Once your lists are defined, you can use them to sort as described in other ExcelTips.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (2920) 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: Creating a Sort Order.

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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