Use Consistent Labels

Numbers without meaning are worthless. Excel is a program for numbers, but it is only useful if it is clear to the reader or user what these numbers mean. So, make sure that you provide textual information for all data and formulas, let’s call these pieces of text information labels.

Excel Guideline 07: Use Consistent Labels :: PerfectXL

Always Label Your Spreadsheet

Even if you are just making relatively simple calculations, you need to label your small spreadsheet. We cannot emphasize this enough, that the average spreadsheet will be used for a period 5 years and is used by an average of 12 different people. By the way, with providing labels, we are not referring to the use of Excel’s Named Ranges/Names. Those features have their own sets of pros and cons, we will discuss them in length at another time.

Choose Meaningful Labels

Do not just use random names but think about a consistent system that fits the purpose of the spreadsheet. The shorter the names the better (certainly the column names) but make sure they stay meaningful. We have encountered spreadsheets where column names “Rev08”, “Revenue 2008” and “2008 Revenue” were all used, this is a bad idea. Make a choice! A consistent way of labeling makes your spreadsheet easier to understand and it makes search functionality (CTRL-F) much more effective. When possible, we suggest starting with a letter and not a number in labels. That way Excel knows immediately that it is a label and it will not accidentally be used in calculations.

Excel Guideline 07: Use Consistent Labels - Meaningful Labels :: PerfectXL

Use 1 Row and 1 Column for Naming

When you create a table, name each column and row. If possible, use only 1 row and 1 column for naming and not two because this can result in all kinds of disadvantages with subsequent editing. For example, there will be issue when you try to sort the table or try to create a pivot table. Only Excel’s chart function can handle double labels on the x-axis well, which means you are limiting the future users options when you use two rows or columns for labeling.

Corporate Naming Schemes

If your company uses spreadsheets widely, it is worthwhile to agree on consistent naming schemes. That makes the spreadsheets become more readable, and will probably result in massive amounts of time saved as people will be able to open a spreadsheet and understand it much quicker. This rule of thumb also counts for formatting and color schemes, keeping spreadsheets as consistent as possible company wide is always a good idea.

How PerfectXL Can Help You

Faithful readers of our guidelines will now wonder: Well how does PerfectXL help me to use consistent labels? Unfortunately, PerfectXL does not help, this is one thing that you’ll have to do yourself. We can suggest though that you check the risk overview after you add your documentation in case you accidentally created cell shifts, moved information, or inadvertently broke some calculation chain. PerfectXL will find these issues and guide you through the process of fixing the issues quickly.

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