Excel Drop Down Lists
Create a drop down list of items in a cell, with Excel's Data Validation feature. This will make data entry easier, and reduce input errors and typing mistakes. Video tutorials and step by step instructions for data validation dropdown lists are below
What is Data Validation?
In Microsoft Excel, the data validation feature helps you control what can
be entered in your worksheet. For example, you can:
- create a drop down list of items in a cell
- restrict entries, such as a date
range or whole numbers only
- create custom
rules for what can be entered
In this tutorial, you'll see how to create a drop down list of choices
in a cell, like the list of employee names shown below.
Create a Drop Down List in a Cell
To create a drop down list in Excel, you can name a list of
items, based on a named Excel table. Then, use that list as the source
for the Data Validation drop down list. If you don't want to create
a named table, you can follow the instructions in the named range
section below. Watch the steps in this short video, and the written instructions
are below the video
How to Create a Drop Down List
With Data Validation, you can create a dropdown list of options in
a cell. There are 3 easy steps:
1. Create a Table of Items OR Create a List
2. Name the List
3. Create the Drop Down
Note: Data validation is not foolproof. It can be circumvented
by pasting data into the cell, or by choosing Clear > Clear All,
on the Ribbon's Home tab.
1. Create a Table of Items
The easiest way to create and maintain the list of options, is to
type them on a worksheet. You can do this on the sheet that will contain
the drop down lists, or on a different sheet. In this example, the
list will be stored on a sheet named Lists.
NOTE: A data validation list can show up to show 32,767 items from
a list on the worksheet.
- Type a heading for the list -- Employees in this example
- Immediately below the heading cell, in single column, type the
entries you want to see in the drop down list. Do not leave blank
cells between the entries.
- Select a cell in the list, and on the Ribbon's Insert tab, click
- Add a check mark in "My table has Headers" and click
The table is now a Named Excel Table.
2. Name the List
Next, you will create a named range that does not include the heading
cell in the table. This named range will be dynamic -- it will adjust
automatically if items are added to or deleted from the list.
You can use the Name Manager, as shown in the video, or use the Name Box. Both methods are described below. The Name Box method is quicker, but you can't add a comment.
Use the Name Manager
This is the method shown in the video. You can set a name, scope and comments.
- Select one of the cells in the list of employee names.
- On the Ribbon, click the Formulas tab, and in the Defined Names group, click Define Name
- In the New Name dialog box, type a one-word name for the selected range, e.g. EmpNames
- Leave the Scope as Workbook
- Click in the Refers to box (On the worksheet, the cell that is currently listed in the Refers to box will be highlighted)
- To select all of the names in the list, point to the top of the heading cell (B1), and when a black arrow appears, click, to select all the names, without the heading cell. (Be sure to click when the arrow is in cell B1, not in the Column B heading button)
- The table name and column name will appear in the Refers to box: =Table1[Employees]
- Click OK, to complete the name.
Use the Name Box
This is a quick way to name a range of cells.
- Click at the top of the heading cell, to select all the cells
in the list (the heading will not be selected).
- Click in the Name box, to the left of the formula bar
- Type a one-word name for the selected cell range, e.g. EmpNames, and then press the Enter key, to complete the name.
- NOTE: After you
press Enter, the name will disappear, and the Table name will appear
in the name box.
3. Create the Drop Down List
Now that you have created a named range, you can use that to create
a drop down list in one or more cells
- Select the cells in which you want the drop down list
- On the Ribbon's Data tab, in the Data Tools group, click the Data Validation button.
- When the Data Validation dialog box open, go to the Settings tab
- First, click in the Allow box
- Then, from the Allow drop down list, select List
- Tip: Use your mouse to select an item in the list, or use the Down arrow on your keyboard
- Click in the Source box, and type an equal sign, and the list
name, for example:
- OR, to use a keyboard shortcut, press the F3 key, to see a list of names
- Then, click on a name, to select it, and
- Optional: Go to the Input Message tab, and create a custom message with tips for entering a valid item
- Optional: Go to the Error Alert tab, and create a custom error message, to help people correct any invalid entries
- Click OK to close the Data Validation dialog box.
- Click on one of the cells, and click the drop down arrow
- Click on an item in the drop down list, to enter it into the cell.
If you prefer not to create a named Excel table, you can create a
named range, and use that as the source for a drop down list. The
drop down lists can be on the same sheet as the source list, or on
a different sheet.
Watch this video to see the steps, and see the written instructions here: List from Another Workbook
Use a Delimited List
Instead of referring to a list of items on the worksheet, you can
type the list in the Source box, separated by commas. For example:
- This method of Data Validation is case sensitive -- if a user types YES,
an error alert will be displayed.
- Space characters can be typed before or after the valid items, and
no error message is displayed, e.g. " Yes "
would be allowed. (Thanks to Peter for this tip.)
Allow Entries Not in Drop Down List
When you add data validation to a cell, the Error Alert feature is automatically turned on. It stops the users from entering invalid data in the cell.
In some worksheets, where there is a drop-down list of valid items, you might want to allow other items to be entered too. For example:
- In a worksheet order form, show a short drop-down list of the top product names, so it's easy to enter those items
- But, allow people to type new product names in the cell, when needed
Turn Off Error Alert
The quickest way to allow users to type items that are not in the list, is to change the data validation error alert setting. To change that setting, follow these steps:
- Select the worksheet cells where you want to turn off Error Alert
- On the Ribbon, click the Data tab, and click Data Validation
- In the Data Validation Settings window, click on the Error Alert tab
- Remove the check mark from Show error alert after invalid data is entered
Other Data Validation Error Alert Options
There are other Error Alert options too, if you don't want to turn that setting off completely. For details on setting up the error alerts, and other data validation messages, go to the Show Data Validation Messages page.
For example, you could show a warning message, and ask if they want to continue with the entry.
Or, just show an information message, that reminds them the item was not in the drop-down list of valid entries.
Get the Sample File
You can download the sample Drop Down Lists file here: Drop
Down List Workbook. The zipped file is in xlsx format, and does not contain any macros.
Create Dependent Drop Down Lists
Data Validation Index Page
Change Product Name to Code
Dependent Drop Down Lists Video
Hide Used Items in Drop Down
List from Another Workbook
Data Validation Criteria Examples
Data Validation Date Rules
Data Validation Tips
Data Validation With Combo Box
Create a Drop Down Excel 2003