Using Custom Number Formats

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One of the most useful (and underutilized) features in Excel is the ability to create custom number formats. Although Excel offers a wide variety of standard number formats, it's often advantageous to develop custom formats. For example, if you use large values, you can scale the display of those values so they appear "in thousands." You can make 123,456,789 appear as 123,457 by applying this format:


A number format consists of three parts: code for negative, code for zero, and code for positive values. The code for each part is separated with a semicolon. If you would like a cell to appear empty, use this format (which is three semicolons and nothing else):


To apply a custom number format:

  1. Select the cell or range that you want to format
  2. Choose the Format Cells command (or press Ctrl+1)
  3. Click the Number tab on the Format Cells dialog box
  4. Click the Custom category
  5. Enter the number format code into the edit box labeled Type.

Rather than provide a complete tutorial on custom number formats, I refer you to Excel's help. You'll find a comprehensive reference for the formatting codes.

NOTE: It's important to understand that a number format affects only the way in which the number appears. A number format does not change the underlying value in the cell.

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