Tiplet: Equalize column widths in Excel

September 8, 2011 at 10:16 am

A client recently asked if there is a command in the newer versions of Excel — similar to Word’s “Distribute Columns” command — that makes it easy to equalize the width of adjacent columns.  (To use this feature in Word, select the columns in question[1], then navigate to the Layout portion of the Table Tools tab and click the “Distribute Columns” button.)

So far, I haven’t found any command in Excel 2007 or Excel 2010 that functions exactly the same way as “Distribute Columns.”  However, there’s a fairly easy way to get the same result.  Just select the columns — note that, in fact, this procedure works even if the columns aren’t adjacent — and click and drag the margin of any one column in order to widen it as you wish.  Release the mouse button, and all columns will adjust to be the same size.

There’s an alternate method:  With the columns selected, click the Format drop-down in the Cells group on the Home tab, then click Column Width and type a number, such as 10 or 12.  (The number corresponds roughly to the number of characters in the cell, assuming you are using the default font face and size.[2])  Or, with the columns selected, right-click a column heading, click Column Width, and type a number.[3]

Although I haven’t seen these methods documented, they appear to work well.

For a more extensive discussion about how to set column width and row height in Excel, see this Microsoft Knowledge Base article. It deals specifically with Excel 2007, but the information applies to Excel 2010 as well.

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[1]   Note that you must select all of the rows, not merely the first row.

[2]   Microsoft offers a rather complex explanation for the way “Column Width” is determined in Excel in this somewhat dated Knowledge Base article.

[3]  A caution:  Right-clicking within a column won’t produce the Column Width option.  To produce a shortcut menu with that option, you must position the mouse pointer within the column heading itself before right-clicking.

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