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How to Sort Excel: Sorting in Microsoft Excel 2007

December 24th, 2008

excel-sort-how-to.jpgThis useful tutorial article by Deanna Goodson explains how to sort Excel, more specifically how to use the Sort function in Microsoft Excel 2007 to organize and manipulate data with different numbers of columns in your spreadsheet. The later part of the article also touches on how to use the Sort Icon.

The Sort function in Microsoft Excel is quite useful for manipulating data for reports. Rather simple to use, the Sort function does have some quirks. Therefore, it’s imperative that you follow a few basic guidelines when sorting your data to ensure its integrity remains intact.

To be able to utilize the Sort process, you must have at least two rows and one column of data in your worksheet. Sorting data in one column is the easiest way to go, naturally.


  • Select all the cells in your list.
  • Choose Data>Sort.
  • Once the Sort box is activated, select the column you wish to sort. (Suggestion: Naming your columns is much easier than trying to figure out if Column A, B, C, etc. has the information you need. However, if you have a header row and the dropdown menu shows Column Letters instead, you can fix this quickly in the Sort box by choosing the “Header row” option.)
  • Choose the manner in which you wish to sort your data. Ascending order will collate your data from A-Z or 1-10 while Descending order will put the information in reverse.
  • Review the results to make sure they are correct. If not, you will perform an Edit>Undo or use the BACK button to undo the sort. Redoing a sort from data that’s already been sorted will just compound the error.


  • Select all the cells in your data list (rows and columns).
  • Choose Data>Sort
  • When the Sort drop-down menu pops up, select the first column you want to sort and the order you wish to sort the data in. (ex. Ascending or Descending)
  • Use the Then by function and choose how you wish to sort the data in the next column.
  • Repeat step #4 for the final sort. (Note: Microsoft Excel will allow up to three at a given time. For example, if you have STATE, CITY and ZIP columns in your worksheet, you would first sort by STATE, then by CITY and finally then by ZIP to have all items ordered in tandem together.)
  • Check to ensure that data is sorted properly.


Generally you’ll want to limit your Excel sorting to no more than three columns of information whenever possible. Microsoft Excel only sorts up to three columns at a time. However, there will be instances when you will have to sort more columns of information. The way to work around this is to perform more than one sort.

In order to do this, you will need to figure out which information is least important and which is most important. Split those into sorts of two or three columns. Then follow the instructions above for DATA SORT – TWO OR THREE COLUMNS.

For example, if you have a spreadsheet that separates LAST NAME, FIRST NAME, CITY, STATE and ZIP, you would: sort the CITY, STATE AND ZIP function as shown above. Then, you would perform a second sort by LAST NAME, then by FIRST NAME being careful to choose the Ascending or Descending properly.

As always, you will check your data to make sure that it is correct.


Finally, we will discuss the usage of the Sort Icon in Microsoft Excel. The Sort Icon appears as AZ or ZA with arrows to the right of the letters. AZ is the Ascending order and ZA is Descending order.

To sort data using the SORT ICON, you would:

  • Select the data you wish to sort.
  • Click on the Sort Icon.
  • Check to ensure that the data is sorted properly.

The Sort Icon is very simple to use, but you should use it with caution. Why?

  1. Excel operates under the assumption that the sort column is where the cursor is located and will sort all ‘contiguous data’ (attached) including both rows and columns.
  2. If you have a blank column in your data field, the row will NOT sort properly.
  3. If a column has a header that remains unattached to the data, the Sort Icon will include that header in the sort.
  4. If you include a sum or total in your data and DON’T separate it using a blank row, then the sum will be included in the data causing an error in the calculations.

DATA SORT is a fantastic offering in Microsoft Excel that can allow individuals and businesses keep track of large quantities of information in a simple and professional manner. However, the end user needs to make sure that the data is in proper working order before the sort is attempted and must check the process throughout as a means of keeping the data in order.

By remembering these tips and tricks, you can sort safely and successfully in Microsoft Excel.

One Response to “How to Sort Excel: Sorting in Microsoft Excel 2007”

  1. comment number 1 by: Sk

    I have an excel file with apx 100 columns. when i sort this list it limits the sort to 68 columns. Can you explain? Any way to avoid this? Thanks!

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