My volunteer committee at Delisle Youth Services was pleased with how I improved the formatting of our Balanced Scorecard spreadsheet.
Here are some tips to make readable spreadsheets, when you’re distributing your MS-Excel or other spreadsheet files to other people:
Text and Numbers
- Use a consistent, plain, font throughout. Avoid fussy fancy fonts.
- Show the hierarchy of your organization with headings in a larger bold font, the main content in regular font, and explanatory notes in smaller italics.
- A regular font size of 8 to 12 points is readable for most people.
- Ensure your content is placed consistently: at the top, middle or bottom of the cells, and at the left, middle or right of the cells.
Lines and Shading
- Maximize contrast. Use black text on white or the lightest shading. Use white text on very dark shading. Avoid text on mid-tones.
- Use shading to convey meaning, for example: shaded cells are headings, white cells are to be filled in.
- A heavy grid distracts from your content. Turn off the gridlines for display and printing.
- White space is the cleanest way to help readers distinguish rows of information. Insert blank rows between groupings. Widen row heights.
- If horizontal border-lines are necessary, use the lightest weight available (such as 1/4 point in grey, instead of the default black 1/2 point.) Consider putting lines only between major groupings of rows, not every row.
- Remove most vertical borders. Delineate columns with white space, the edge of text blocks, and the ends of horizontal borders.
- Use caution when shading tables in alternating stripes. The shading may be too dark for high-contrast with text. Shaded stripes may compete with more informative shading elsewhere on the spreadsheet.
Design for Printing
- Set up the page layout so the spreadsheet will print nicely without requiring the recipient to fiddle with it.
- If you have many columns, choose a large paper size in landscape orientation, and adjust to print 1 page wide. Use narrower columns and word-wrap to keep the font size readable.
- Set up information that prints on every page (title, tab name, headings, page number, etc.) in the header, footer, or print-title rows.
- Print out your spreadsheet in black & white, to make sure your colours come out as distinct shades of grey, with high contrast.