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Adjust Column Width

Step-by-Step Guide to Understanding How to Adjust Column Width in Excel (and Autofit Function)

Last Updated December 6, 2023

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Adjust Column Width

How to Adjust the Column Width in Excel

The column width in Excel can be adjusted to sufficiently fit the content within the spreadsheet.

  • Narrow Column Width → If the width of a column is too narrow, the value of a cell can become hidden, where the number values appear as “###”.
  • Wide Column Width → On the other hand, if the column width is too wide, there could be far too much white space in the spreadsheet, resulting in a distracting appearance. The column width must also be considered if the Excel file will be printed once complete.

By default, the Excel column is set at “8.43 units” with lower and upper parameters of 0 (i.e. hidden) and 255, respectively. The 8.43 units refer to 8.43 characters, which corresponds to 64 pixels, but the units can be adjusted in the settings tab (e.g. into inches, cm, mm).

In the context of financial modeling, it is a general best practice to maintain consistency in the formatting of the column width, albeit there are occasional exceptions.

For instance, most financials models utilize so-called “elevator drops” (i.e. an “x” in a “thinner” Column A) to make the process of navigating between different sections easier.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with one column being of a different width than the rest, a model can appear less professional if each and every column is noticeably set to be a different width.

In order to adjust the column width—either to expand or decrease the width—follow the steps below:

  • Step 1 → Select the Column(s) to Adjust
  • Step 2 → Open the “Home” Tab
  • Step 3 → Click on “Format” to Open the Menu
  • Step 4 → Press “Column Width” in the Cell Size Group
  • Step 5 → Enter the Specific Width and Click the “OK” Button

Column Width Selection in Cell Size

If you need to adjust all the columns in the worksheet, simply press “Ctrl” and “A” simultaneously to select all (or click the arrow in the top left corner next to the formula bar), before repeating the same process.

Alternatively, a different method is to select the column to adjust with your cursor, right click to open the menu, and pick the “Adjust Column Width” option.

Adjust Column Width Menu Option

Whichever method is used, the following box should appear for the user to enter a custom column width.

Change Column Width Box

How to Adjust Column Width Using Excel Keyboard Shortcut

Using the keyboard rather than the mouse is more time efficient in practically all cases, aside from certain exceptions.

The keyboard shortcut to quickly open the adjust column width box and enter the desired width is as follows.

Adjust Column Width Shortcut = Alt + H + O + W

Each key must be pressed one-by-one in that specific order, instead of pressing down on all of them simultaneously.

How to Use Excel Autofit Function?

Excel also offers the option to adjust the column width automatically to fit the content within the column.

In the “Format” box from earlier, there is a built-in “Autofit Column Width” option to pick from in the cell size group.

Autofit Column Fit

If you want to bypass the process of finding and clicking that option, a more convenient approach is to double-click the boundary of a column, i.e. the line separating each column.

Upon doing so, Excel automatically adjusts the column width based on the “best fit”.

Like earlier, selecting all cells and repeating the process on any of the chosen columns auto-adjusts the column width of all the actively selected columns.

Autofit Column Width in Excel: Keyboard Shortcut

The preferred option to auto-fit columns, particularly for multiple columns, is to utilize keyboard shortcuts.

The autofit keyboard shortcut is the following:

Autofit Column Width = Alt + H + O + I

As with the shortcut earlier, press each individual key one after the other, and the selected column(s) should be automatically adjusted to display all the included content.

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