Adding a Drop-Down List to Excel

In my Productivity Tips webinars with Tom Duff (@duffbert), we often share tips that come from others within the community, and I always love giving shout-outs to those folks. This is a great tip mentioned in a TechRepublic article (check it out) that I came across while looking for instructions on how to accomplish this — and I thought I’d share. I included in in the October 2019 Productivity Tips webinar, which you can find on the blog, on the CollabTalk YouTube page, or jump to the video tip by clicking here.

Why would you want to add a drop-down list to an Excel spreadsheet, and not just create a form or a Power App? Well, you could do that if it better meets your needs — but sometimes you want something quick and easy within the app you’re working with, and then simply share out a link or, if it’s within one of the latest versions of Office, do some co-editing. Sometimes you may want to send out a spreadsheet for your users to fill out, or maybe you find yourself tracking repetitive data and want an easier way to collect information on your own. Whatever the use case, this is a quick tip for generating drop-down lists to make that data entry just a little bit easier.

Creating a drop-down list

In Excel, the option to create a drop-down list is in the Data Validation feature. To get started, you’ll need to create a list. Create the list in cells A1:A4. Similarly, you can enter the items in a single row, such as A1:D1.

Creating your Excel drop-down list

Next, you’ll want to select the position of your drop-down list. For this example, we’ll select cell E3. (You can position the drop-down list in most any cell or even multiple cells.) Choose Validation from the Data menu.

Creating a Excel drop-down list

Choose List from the Allow option’s drop-down list. (See, they’re everywhere.)

Creating a Excel drop-down list

Click the Source control to add your cursor, and then drag your mouse to highlight cells A1:A4. Alternately, you can also enter the reference (=$A$1:$A$4).

Creating a Excel drop-down list

Make sure the In-Cell Dropdown option is checked. If you uncheck this option, Excel still forces users to enter only list values (A1:A4), but it won’t present a drop-down list. To finish the action, click OK.

You can only see the drop-down…if you click on the cell.

Creating a Excel drop-down list

Your users can now only select from one of the options in the drop-down list. If they try to enter their own data, they’ll receive an error message.

A bit of manual effort to setup, but if you’re creating an Excel form that you want users to complete, this can save massive amounts of time and ensure that the data you capture is uniform and correct. You can copy-and-paste this drop-down cell to any other cells in your spreadsheet, and you can create as many different drop-downs like this as you’d like.

Hope you find this useful!

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and Office Apps & Services MVP, and the Founder & CEO of CollabTalk LLC, an independent research and technical marketing services firm based in Lehi, Utah, through which he provides fractional-CMO for partners in the Microsoft ecosystem.