You’ve likely used the Bullets command in Microsoft Word to create a bulleted list of items, but you may not realize that it’s possible to create such lists in Excel as well.
In this article, I’ll compare using text boxes versus using a number pad trick to create in-cell bullet symbols. I find that many users rely on merged cells within a spreadsheet to store a paragraph or more of text, but personally, I find text boxes are far superior for this purpose.
Let’s first create a text box, as shown in Figure 1:
Activate Excel’s Insert menu.
Click Text Box in the Text section.
Hold down your left mouse button and draw a rectangle on your worksheet.
Once you release the mouse, you can type in the text box in the same fashion as you would a Word document or email message.
Figure 1: Text boxes provide a helpful alternative to merged cells.
Text boxes offer many benefits over the often-used alternative of merged cells:
The text that you type within a text box wraps automatically.
Unlike merged cells, text boxes are portable and easily resized. Simply grab the edge of the text box and drag to a new location, or select one of the handles shown in step 4 of Figure 1 to resize the text box.
You can set a textbox to be visible onscreen, but not on the printed page.
Excel 2013 and later: Right-click on any edge of the text box. Choose Size and Properties, and then clear the Print Object checkbox in the Properties section, as shown in Figure 2.
Excel 2010 and earlier: Right-click on any edge of the text box. Choose Size and Properties, and then choose the Properties section. Clear the Print Object checkbox.
Figure 2: Clear the Print Object checkbox to have a text box appear onscreen only.
Now, let’s add some text to our text box, as shown in Figure 3:
Add text to the text box.
Highlight the text you want to add bullets to and right-click on the text box.
Choose the Bullets command:
Excel 2010 and later: This command appears on the right-click menu.
Excel 2007: The command appears as an icon above the menu.
Choose a bullet format:
Excel 2010 and later: A submenu displays the available choices.
Excel 2007: Click the arrow next to the Bullets icon to see additional options.
This functionality is just the beginning of what’s possible within text boxes. Choose the Bullets and Numbering command to display a dialog box with many more choices, including numbers, letters, and Roman numerals.
Figure 3: A Bullets command only appears within the right-click menu for text boxes.
Bullets can also be inserted directly into cells two different ways. Let’s first use Excel’s Symbol command, as shown in Figure 4.
Type text into a worksheet cell, and then select that cell.
Click at the start of the Formula Bar.
Choose Excel’s Insert menu.
Choose the Symbol command.
Select Wingdings from the Font list.
Click the scroll bar down-arrow four times.
Choose either of the bullet symbols (or click the scroll bar down-arrow one more time to reveal another).
Click Insert to add the Bullet symbol you chose to the Formula bar.
Click Close to leave the Symbol dialog box.
Press Enter to save the changes to the worksheet cell.
In most versions of Excel, a bullet should appear at the start of the worksheet cell, but may not in Excel 2016.
Figure 4: The Symbol command enables you to add bullets and other characters to a worksheet cell.
A third way to create a bullet symbol is by way of a keyboard shortcut. Anywhere in Excel you can hold down the Alt key and press the number 7 on the number pad of your keyboard to create a bullet. This technique is nuanced, in that you must hold down the Alt key while you tap the number 7. This trick won’t work if you use the 7 key that appears above the letter Y on your keyboard. Indeed, the numbers 1 through 9 all display symbols when you press a number key while holding down the Alt key.
David H. Ringstrom, CPA, is an author and nationally recognized instructor who teaches scores of webinars each year. His Excel courses are based on over 25 years of consulting and teaching experience. His mantra is “Either you work Excel, or it works you.” David offers spreadsheet and database consulting services nationwide.