How do I sort and filter data in Excel?

By | May 10, 2023
(Last Updated On: May 10, 2023)

How do I sort and filter data in Excel?

Learn about sorting in Excel

You can sort data by text (A to Z or Z to A), numbers (smallest to largest or largest to smallest), and dates and times (oldest to newest and newest to oldest) in one or more columns. You can also sort by a custom list (such as Large, Medium, and Small) or by format, including cell color, font color, or icon set. Most sort operations are column sorts, but you can also sort by rows.

Sort criteria are saved with the workbook so that you can reapply the sort each time that you open the workbook for an Excel table, but not for a range of cells. If you want to save sort criteria so that you can periodically reapply a sort when you open a workbook, then it’s a good idea to use a table. This is especially important for multicolumn sorts or for sorts that take a long time to create.

Sort text in Excel

  1. Select a column of alphanumeric data in a range of cells, or make sure that the active cell is in a table column containing alphanumeric data.
  2. On the Home tab, in the Editing group, and then click Sort & Filter.
  3. Do one of the following:
    • To sort in ascending alphanumeric order, click Sort A to Z.
    • To sort in descending alphanumeric order, click Sort Z to A.
  4. Optionally, you can do a case-sensitive sort.

    How to sort by case-sensitivity

Issue: Check that all data is stored as text  If the column that you want to sort contains numbers stored as numbers and numbers stored as text, then you need to format them all as text. If you do not, the numbers stored as numbers are sorted before the numbers stored as text. To format all of the selected data as text, on the Home tab, in the Font group, click the Format Cell Font button, click the Number tab, and then under Category, click Text.

Issue: Remove any leading spaces   In some cases, data imported from another application might have leading spaces inserted before data. Remove the leading spaces before sorting the data.

Sort numbers in excel

  1. Select a column of numeric data in a range of cells, or make sure that the active cell is in a table column containing numeric data.
  2. On the Home tab, in the Editing group, click Sort & Filter, and then do one of the following:
    • To sort from low numbers to high numbers, click Sort Smallest to Largest.
    • To sort from high numbers to low numbers, click Sort Largest to Smallest.

Issue: Check that all numbers are stored as numbers  If the results are not what you expected, the column might contain numbers stored as text and not as numbers. For example, negative numbers imported from some accounting systems or a number entered with a leading ‘ (apostrophe) are stored as text.

Sort dates or times in Excel

  1. Select a column of dates or times in a range of cells, or make sure that the active cell is in a table column containing dates or times.
  2. Select a column of dates or times in a range of cells or table.
  3. On the Home tab, in the Editing group, click Sort & Filter, and then do one of the following:
    • To sort from an earlier to a later date or time, click Sort Oldest to Newest.
    • To sort from a later to an earlier date or time, click Sort Newest to Oldest.

Issue: Check that dates and times are stored as dates or times   If the results are not what you expected, the column might contain dates or times stored as text and not as dates or times. For Excel to sort dates and times correctly, all dates and times in a column must be stored as a date or time serial number. If Excel cannot recognize a value as a date or time, the date or time is stored as text.

 Note     If you want to sort by days of the week, format the cells to show the day of the week. If you want to sort by the day of the week regardless of the date, convert them to text by using the TEXT function. However, the TEXT function returns a text value, and so the sort operation would be based on alphanumeric data.

Sort by cell color, font color, or icon in Excel

If you have manually or conditionally formatted a range of cells or table column, by cell color or font color, you can also sort by these colors. You can also sort by an icon set created through a conditional format.

  1. Select a column of data in a range of cells, or make sure that the active cell is in a table column.
  2. On the Home tab, in the Editing group, click Sort & Filter, and then click Custom Sort.The Sort dialog box is displayed.
  3. Under Column, in the Sort by box, select the column that you want to sort.
  4. Under Sort On, select the type of sort. Do one of the following:
    • To sort by cell color, select Cell Color.
    • To sort by font color, select Font Color.
    • To sort by an icon set, select Cell Icon.
  5. Under Order, click the arrow next to the button, and then, depending on the type of format, select a cell color, font color, or cell icon.
  6. Under Order, select how you want to sort. Do one of the following:
    • To move the cell color, font color, or icon to the top or left, select On Top for a column sort, and On Left for a row sort.
    • To move the cell color, font color, or icon to the bottom or right, select On Bottom for a column sort, and On Right for a row sort.

     Note    There is no default cell color, font color, or icon sort order. You must define the order that you want for each sort operation.

  7. To specify the next cell color, font color, or icon to sort by, click Add Level, and then repeat steps three through five.Make sure that you select the same column in the Then by box and that you make the same selection under Order.Keep repeating for each additional cell color, font color, or icon that you want included in the sort.

Sort by a custom list in Excel

You can use a custom list to sort in a user-defined order. Excel provides built-in, day-of-the-week and month-of-the year custom lists, and you can also create your own custom list.

  1. Optionally, create the custom list.
  2. Select a column of data in a range of cells, or make sure that the active cell is in a table column.
  3. On the Home tab, in the Editing group, click Sort & Filter, and then click Custom Sort.The Sort dialog box is displayed.
  4. Under Column, in the Sort by or Then by box, select the column that you want to sort by a custom list.
  5. Under Order, select Custom List.
  6. In the Custom Lists dialog box, select the list that you want. In the preceding example, you would click High, Medium, Low.
  7. Click OK.

Sort rows in excel

  1. Select a row of data in a range of cells, or make sure that the active cell is in a table column.
  2. On the Home tab, in the Editing group, click Sort & Filter, and then click Custom Sort.The Sort dialog box is displayed.
  3. Click Options.
  4. In the Sort Options dialog box, under Orientation, click Sort left to right, and then click OK.
  5. Under Column, in the Sort by box, select the row that you want to sort.
  6. Do one of the following:By value
    1. Under Sort On, select Values.
    2. Under Order, do one of the following:
      • For text values, select A to Z or Z to A.
      • For number values, select Smallest to Largest or Largest to Smallest.
      • For date or time values, select Oldest to Newest or Newest to Oldest.

    By cell color, font color, or cell icon

    1. Under Sort On, select Cell Color, Font Color, or Cell Icon.
    2. Click the arrow next to the button, and then select a cell color, font color, or cell icon.
    3. Under Order, select On Left or On Right.

 Note     When you sort rows that are part of a worksheet outline, Excel sorts the highest-level groups (level 1) so that the detail rows or columns stay together, even if the detail rows or columns are hidden.

Sort by more than column or row in Excel

You might sort by more than one column or row when you have data that you want to group by the same value in one column or row, and then sort another column or row within that group of equal values. For example, if you have a Department and Employee column, you can first sort by Department (to group all the employees in the same department together), and then sort by name (to put the names in alphabetical order within each department). You can sort by up to 64 columns.

 Note    For best results, the range of cells that you sort should have column headings.

  1. Select a range of cells with two or more columns of data, or make sure that the active cell is in a table with two or more columns.
  2. On the Home tab, in the Editing group, click Sort & Filter, and then click Custom Sort.The Sort dialog box is displayed.
  3. Under Column, in the Sort by box, select the first column that you want to sort.
  4. Under Sort On, select the type of sort. Do one of the following:
    • To sort by text, number, or date and time, select Values.
    • To sort by format, select Cell Color, Font Color, or Cell Icon.
  5. Under Order, select how you want to sort. Do one of the following:
    • For text values, select A to Z or Z to A.
    • For number values, select Smallest to Largest or Largest to Smallest.
    • For date or time values, select Oldest to Newest or Newest to Oldest.
    • To sort based on a custom list, select Custom List.
  6. To add another column to sort by, click Add Level, and then repeat steps three through five.
  7. To copy a column to sort by, select the entry, and then click Copy Level.
  8. To delete a column to sort by, select the entry, and then click Delete Level. Note    You must keep at least one entry in the list.
  9. To change the order in which the columns are sorted, select an entry, and then click the Up or Down arrow to change the order.Entries higher in the list are sorted before entries lower in the list.

Sort one column in a range of cells without affecting the others

Warning   Be careful when using this feature. Sorting by one column in a range may produce results that you don’t want, such as moving cells in that column away from other cells in the same row.

 Note    You cannot do the following procedure in a table.

  1. Select a column in a range of cells containing two or more columns.
  2. To select the column that you want to sort, click the column heading.
  3. On the Home tab, in the Editing group, click Sort & Filter, and then click one of the available sort commands.
  4. The Sort Warning dialog box is displayed.
  5. Select Continue with the current selection.
  6. Click Sort.
  7. Select any other sort options that you want in the Sort dialog box, and then click OK.

If the results are not what you want, click Undo .

Learn more about general issues with sorting

If you get unexpected results when sorting your data, do the following:

Check to see if the values returned by a formula have changed   If the data that you have sorted contains one or more formulas, the return values of those formulas can change when the worksheet is recalculated. In this case, make sure that you reapply the sort or do the sort again to get up-to-date results.

Unhide rows and columns before you sort   Hidden columns are not moved when you sort columns, and hidden rows are not moved when you sort rows. Before you sort data, it’s a good idea to unhide the hidden columns and rows.

Check the locale setting   Sort orders vary by locale setting. Make sure that you have the proper locale setting in Regional Settings or Regional and Language Options in Control Panel on your computer. For information about changing the locale setting, see the Windows help system.

Enter column headings in only one row   If you need multiple line labels, wrap the text within the cell.

Turn on or off the heading row  It’s usually best to have a heading row when you sort a column to make it easier to understand the meaning of the data. By default, the value in the heading is not included in the sort operation. Occasionally, you may need to turn on or off the heading so that the value in the heading is or is not included in the sort operation. Do one of the following:

  • To exclude the first row of data from the sort because it is a column heading, on the Home tab, in the Editing group, click Sort & Filter, click Custom Sort, and then select My data has headers.
  • To include the first row of data in the sort because it is not a column heading, on the Home tab, in the Editing group, click Sort & Filter, click Custom Sort, and then clear My data has headers.

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About CA Satbir Singh

Chartered Accountant having 12+ years of Experience in Taxation , Finance and GST related matters and can be reached at Email : Taxheal@gmail.com