Outline (Or Grouping) in Excel: Features, Creation, Uses & More

An outline (or grouping) in Excel is a feature that allows you to create a hierarchical view of your data to help you arrange and organize it. Working with large data sets is a great use for this hierarchical structure. In this tutorial, you will learn about different features regarding outlining in Excel.

Excel worksheet outline can be used by users to quickly show summary rows or columns or to show the specific data for each group. It is possible to make an outline that consists of rows, columns, or both rows and columns.

Let, us have a dataset containing Member ID, Joining Date, Name, State, Designation, and Member Type. We will outline or group these data based on Member Type criteria.

Outline Data Applying Subtotal

This Excel tutorial covers:

  • The meaning of Outline in Excel
  • The importance of Outlining data in Excel
  • Grouping or outlining data using Subtotal in Excel
  • The procedure of creating outline of columns in Excel
  • The working method of Auto Outline
  • Outlining or grouping data in PivotTable
  • Usage of keyboard shortcuts for outlining data in Excel
  • Processes of copying and pasting outlined data in Excel
  • Ungrouping or removing outlined data
  • Creating a summary report with the help of outlined data
  • Some common mistakes while outlining data

 Note: We have applied Microsoft 365 while preparing the dataset for this tutorial. You can use the mentioned methods in versions from Excel 2007 onwards.

Definition of Outline in Excel
Importance of Outline in Excel
Worksheet Preparation for Creating Outline
Grouping or Outlining Rows Using Subtotal
Outline of Columns
Auto Outline Feature in Excel
Outline Data in Pivot Table
Outline Data Applying Keyboard Shortcuts
Copy and Paste Outline Data
Remove Outline in Excel
Summary Report Using Outlined Data
Some Common Mistakes

What Does Outlining (Group) Data Mean in Excel?

Outlining or grouping data is an action in Microsoft Excel that in Microsoft Excel allows you to set up and layout your spreadsheet by grouping rows or columns together. It is very helpful when you are working with a large number of data in different categories. The outlining tool is useful for activities such as constructing hierarchical structures, summarizing data, and increasing worksheet readability.

If you see the below GIF, you will understand the concept better. Here the data on the table are outlined or grouped based on the Member Type (Premium, Local, and Platinum).

Meaning of Outline Data in Excel

Why Is It Important to Outline Your Excel Data?

If you are performing operations in Excel with a larger number of data in different categories, you need to outline or group your data. There are many importances of outline data in Excel.

  • Outlining cells can assist users in quickly organizing and evaluating their data. Outlining enables users to collapse or expand linked data rows or columns.
  • While working with a large number of data, sometimes we may modify or delete important data by mistake. Outlining can help to avoid this by clearly dividing areas of the spreadsheet and making it easy to recognize which columns should not be modified.
  • Outlining cells in Excel can help users save a lot of time. By not outlining, users may have to actively search within the Excel sheet for the information they require. Users can rapidly collapse or expand different areas of the spreadsheet to access the relevant data using outlining.
  • Users may also employ outlining in Excel to produce summary reports that just highlight the most critical information, making it simpler to present complicated data to others.

How to Prepare Your Worksheet Before Outlining or Grouping Data

If you intend to outline or group data in Excel, then the first thing you need to do is prepare your Excel worksheet. you can outline rows or, columns, or both. Here we have followed some rules to prepare our worksheet before outlining or grouping data.

  • The values of the last three columns (State, Designation, and Member Type) will be used to outline or group data.
  • Each column has a label or header in the first row.
  • We have entered similar data consecutively in one column.
  • The cells must have values because we cannot outline or group data if the cells are empty.

Worksheet Preparation to Outline Data in Excel

How to Group or Outline Rows Using Subtotal in Excel

One of the important features for outlining or grouping data in Excel is Subtotal. So the very first question that comes to our mind is “What is Subtotal in Excel?

What Is Subtotal Feature in Excel?
If you are dealing with an Excel table, the Subtotal command will be greyed out. To add subtotals to a table, first convert it to a regular range of data, and then add the subtotal. Please keep in mind that this will eliminate all table functionality from the data except for table formatting.

Subtotal in Excel

Users can apply The SUBTOTAL function to calculate subtotals with a summary function, such as Sum or Average.

To apply the Subtotal feature you need to do the following things.

  • First, select any cell from the required table.
  • Then go to the Data tab and select Outline.
  • After that click on Subtotal.

Using Data Tab to Open Subtotal Option

  • After completing those tasks, you will get a dialogue box named Subtotal.
  • From the drop-down ribbon, select Member Type as we want to outline or group data based on the Member Type.
  • Finally, click on OK.

Subtotal Dialogue Box

Now you will find that the table has been grouped or outlined. To display the detailed data within a group, click the button for the group, or press ALT+SHIFT+=.
If you want to hide the outlined data, press ALT+SHIFT+-.
Similar operations can be done by symbols.

Outline Data Using Subtotal Feature

You will understand better if you observe the following GIF.

Outline Data Applying Subtotal

How to Create an Outline of Columns in Excel

If you want to create an outline of columns in Excel, then you need to do the below procedures.

  • Initially, select a range of cells you want to outline or group.

Selecting Columns to Outline in Excel

  • Then go to Data >> Outline >> Group >> Auto Outline.

Creating Outline of Columns in Excel

When you click on the Auto Outline feature, you will find a message box containing Cannot create an outline.

Dialogue Box

But it was not supposed to happen. The data should have been outlined or grouped. So, why it happened? It happened because there is no numeric values containing formulas in the table. All the values, that are to be grouped or outlined, are textual. To perform the operation of Auto Outline, you must put numeric values with formulas in the table.

Now you need to click another option.

  • You need to go to Data >> Outline >> Group >> Group.

Applying Group Option to Create Outline of Columns

Finally, you will find the columns outlined as required.

Outline of Columns in Excel

Note- Users can also construct nested outlines in Excel. This implies you can group data that is related to your present groups.

What Is Auto Outline Feature in Excel & How Does It Work?

You can apply Auto Outline when you are working with numerical data specifically numerical data with formulas. If you observe the following example, you will understand the function of Auto Outline better.

In the below example, the total prices of the Laptop, Mobile, and Tab have been calculated with formulas. Then when the Auto Outline feature is applied, the data is outlined based on the prices of the products.

Performing Auto Outline in Excel

How to Outline or Group Data in Pivot Table

You can outline or group data in PivotTable. A PivotTable is an effective instrument for calculating, summarizing, and evaluating data that allows you to see similarities, patterns, and trends. PivotTables behave differently depending on the platform on which you run Excel.

To do this you need to perform the following operations.

  • Go to the Insert tab.
  • Then PivotTable >> From Table/Range.

Inserting PivotTable to Outline Data

  • Then you will get a dialogue box name PivotTable from table or range. Here, do the required operations and click on OK.

Selecting Range to PivotTable

  • You will find the PivotTable Fields option at the right of the sheet.
  • Now as we want to group data based on Member Type, so, check the Member Type box and then Name.

Outline Data Using PivotTable

After that, you will see that the names are grouped or outlined according to the Member Type.

PivotTable to Outline or Group Data

You can also choose another field apart from Member Type, to group or outline data.

Keyboard Shortcuts for Outlining Data in Excel

You can use keyboard shortcuts for outlining data in Excel. Just select the range of cells you want to outline or group and then press the following keys.

  • Alt+Shift+Down Arrow (⬇️) to group selected rows.
  • Alt+Shift+Down Arrow (⬆️) to ungroup selected rows.
  • Alt+Shift+Right Arrow (➡️) to group selected columns
  • Alt+Shift+Left Arrow (⬅️) to ungroup selected columns.

Using Keyboard Shortcuts to Outline Data in Excel

How to Copy Outlined Data in Excel

Suppose, you want to copy and paste outlined data. You don’t want to copy and paste any invisible values. So, how you can do this. There is a very efficient way to do such a thing.

  • Initially, go to the Home tab.
  • Then click on Editing >> Find & Select >> Go To Special.

Selecting Find & Replace to Copy Outlined Data

  • After that, you will find a dialogue box named Go To Special.
  • Here check on Visible cells only and click on OK.

Go To Special Dialogue Box

Now copy the data you want and go to the desired sheet. Then paste it. You will find that only the visible values have been copied and pasted to the required sheet.

Copy and Paste Outline Data

How to Ungroup Data or Remove Outline in Excel

Let, you have outline or grouped certain data. But now you want to ungroup or remove outlined data for any particular reason. You can do this easily.

  • First, you have to select the range of cells you want to ungroup.
  • Then go to the Data tab.
  • After that click on Outline >> Ungroup >> Ungroup.
  • Finally, this will help you ungroup or remove outlined data in Excel.

Removing or Ungrouping Outline

Note- As we don’t have any numerical values with formulas, we don’t need to click on Clear Outline, rather we need to select Ungroup as there are textual values.

How to Create a Summary Report in Excel with the Help of Outlined Data

Suppose, you want to make a summary report of your data showing the totals on the chart. Users will understand better if the summary report is shown with the help of a graph or chart. You can easily achieve the method.

  • First, select the totals you want to make the summary report.
  • Then go to the Insert tab.
  • After that select Chart and click on 2-D Column.

Creating Summary Report in Excel with The help of Outlined Data

Finally, you will get the desired summary report based on the totals of your data.

Summary Report of Outlined Data

Here we have used a 2-D column chart to display the summary report. You can use another type of chart also.

What Are the Common Mistakes While Creating & Working with Excel Outline?

There are some common mistakes while creating and working with Excel outline. You should address these issues.

  • Data grouping too much at once is one common problem. This may make the worksheet harder to read and cause Excel to operate more slowly.
  • If you accidentally forget to label then it will be a big problem for outlining data in Excel. To ensure that other people can comprehend your data, always carefully identify your outlines.
  • Take caution not to unintentionally erase or collapse crucial information. Before making any significant edits to your outlines, always verify.

Download Practice Workbook

You can download practice workbook from here.

Throughout this tutorial, we have explained different features regarding outlining in Excel. You can more easily concentrate on particular areas of your data by using an outline to collapse or expand groups of rows or columns. You may outline data in Excel by using the Subtotal. You can also create an outline of columns. The data in PivotTable can be grouped or outlined. Using keyboard shortcuts is another effective way to outline your data in Excel. If you want to ungroup your data, then you can also do it easily. One of the unique features of Excel is to make summary reports based on the outlined data. Last but not least, you must be careful while grouping or outlining your data in Excel, otherwise, unwanted and unintentional errors can occur.

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Beni Yameen Jonayed
Beni Yameen Jonayed

Beni Yameen Jonayed, holding a BSc in Naval Architecture & Engineering from Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, works as an Excel & VBA Content Developer at ExcelDemy. His deep interest in research and innovation extends to his passion for Excel. In his role, Jonayed not only skillfully addresses challenges but also shows enthusiasm and expertise in handling tough situations with finesse, emphasizing his dedicated commitment to delivering outstanding content. He is interested in Data Analysis with MS... Read Full Bio

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