Excel Intro:
Select a Range

Title: Jan's Illustrated Computer Literacy 101
Did you want Working with Numbers: 2007,2010,2013,2016  or españolIcon: Change web

A range is a rectangle of cells. The normal form for the range reference lists the upper left cell first, then the lower right cell, like B7:C9. (The column letters do not have to be capitalized.)

Budget cells B7:C9
Range reference= upper left cell : lower right cell

To select more than one cell is not hard, if the cells are next to each other. For cells and ranges that are scattered around, you will need to use the CTRL key along with your mouse. The SHIFT key is a great help when you need to select large numbers of cells.

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     footprintSelect Range
     footprintSelect Row/Column
     footprintSelect Sheet
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Highlight Colors

When you select more than one cell, Excel highlights all but the first cell in the selection. Most computer programs that highlight selections reverse the colors of text and background. With Excel, it depends on which version you are using.

Standard colors = black text on white:  

Unselected Original Cell

Original cells with standard black text on white

Selected Selected 
Highlighted cells in Excel 97 Highlighted cells in Excell 2000
Icon: Excel 97 reverse colors for text and for background Icon: Excel 2000 Icon: Excel 2002Icon: Excel 2003 same color for text; 
background color is violet 

Other Colors: If the cells have colored text or colored backgrounds, however, the difference is more noticeable. 

Unselected Original Cell

cells with colored text and background

Selected  Selected 
cells with colored text and background - highlighted in Excel 97 cells with colored text and background - highlighted in Excel 2000
Icon: Excel 97reverse colors for text and for background Icon: Excel 2000 Icon: Excel 2002Icon: Excel 2003 same color for text; 
dims and darkens the background color  

When you select cells that have a dark background, the highlighting is harder to see in later versions than it is in Excel 97. The highlight border shows up well in both.

highlighted labels in Excel 97

highlighted labels in Excel 2000

Icon: Excel 97 Excel 97  Icon: Excel 2000 Icon: Excel 2002Icon: Excel 2003 Excel 2000/2002/2003

[Note from author:
I originally wrote these lessons for Excel 97. I have updated them to Excel 2000, Excel 2002, and 2003. My apologies if I have overlooked some spots. I am not trying to confuse you!

Icon Step-by-Step 

Step-by-Step: Select Range

 Icon Step-by-Step

What you will learn:

to select a range of cells by -
     range reference
to name a range
to select non-adjacent cells
to extend or reduce a selection

Start with: Budget (Excel open to budget.xls from resource files)

Select Range: Drag

It's easy to drag when the corners of the range are fairly close together.

  1. Range B7:D13 selectedDrag from cell B7 to cell D13, the opposite corner of the range. You have selected all the cells in range B7:D13. The Name Box shows B7 and the Formula Bar shows what is in cell B7 = 20000.
  2. Click on a cell outside the range to deselect the range.
  3. Drag from cell B13 to cell D7 (the other corners of the previous range). The same cells are selected. The Name Box shows B13 this time and the Formula Bar shows 5000, the contents of cell B13.

While you are dragging, the Name Box shows the number of rows and columns you have selected. The row and column headings for the selected cells are raised and bold to help you see what you are selecting. Once you release the mouse button, the Name Box will always show just the cell reference of the cell you started with. The Formula bar shows the contents of that cell the whole time.

Select Range: Keys

This technique is especially useful when the corners of the range are far apart. You do not have to select the upper left and then the lower right cell in the range. Either pair of diagonal corners in any order will do. The range reference is normally written with upper left: lower right.

  1. Range A7:D13 selectedSelect one corner of the range: cell A7.
  2. Hold the SHIFT key down and use the arrow keys to move to cell D13. Then release the SHIFT key. The range A7:D13 is selected.
  3. Click out of the range somewhere to de-select the range.
  4. Select cell A7 again.
  5. Hold the SHIFT key down and select the opposite corner, cell D13.

Select Range: Range Reference

When you know the cell references for the corners, the Name Box is even easier than dragging.
  1. Range N44:N46 selectedClick in the Name Box and type the range reference n44:n46 and press ENTER.

You are moved directly to the range and the cells are all selected. Again the Name Box shows only the upper left cell of the range.

Select Range: Name

Cell references are hard to remember. Give a name to cells that you will be looking at often.
  1. Name Box = Yearly_TotalsIf necessary, select the range N44:N46.
  2. Click in the Name Box, type Yearly_Totals and press ENTER. 

    TipUse an underscore in the name when you want some space. Spaces are not allowed in cell or range names.

  3. Return to cell A1. (Hint: Use CTRL + HOME)
  4. Open the drop list for the Name Box and select the name Yearly_Totals
  5. You are returned to range N44:N46 and it is selected again. Success!

Select Cells/Ranges: Not Adjacent - CTRL key

A range is a set of adjacent cells. They are right next to each other. You can also select non-adjacent cells, ranges, or a combination. These are not next to each other. The CTRL key gives you the power to skip around with your selections.

  1. Selected ranges highlightedSelect cell C4. (Hint: Type the cell reference in the Name Box and press ENTER. This will avoid the long scroll from N44:N46.)
  2. Non-adjacent cells: Hold down the CTRL key and click on cells E4 and G4
  3. Non-adjacent range - Drag: While you hold down the CTRL key, drag to select the range C7:E13.
  4. Non-adjacent range - Name Box: Release the CTRL key but don't click anywhere so your selections will remain selected. In the Name Box, type h10:i20 and then hold the CTRL key down while you press ENTER.

    All the cells you clicked or dragged are selected.

TipThe Name Box shows the cell reference for the last cell or range you chose. It cannot show all the parts that are selected. 

Select Cells/Ranges: Extend or Reduce Selection - SHIFT key

Suppose you have a selection that is one row too short. Or perhaps it is a column too wide. You don't have to start your selection all over. You can extend or reduce it using the SHIFT key.

  1. Extend single cell selection: Select cell B4. Hold the SHIFT key down and click cell G4. Your selection is extended to G4.
  2. selection extended

  3. Select the range A7:D12
  4. Extend the selection by one row: Hold the SHIFT key down and click cell D13.
  5. Reduce the selection by one column: Hold the SHIFT key down and click cell C13.
  6. To change both width and height at the same time: Hold the SHIFT key down and click cell F20.
  7. Use CTRL + HOME to return to cell A1.