The Highlight Function in Excel: A Step-by-Step Guide

Do you ever feel like certain data in your Excel spreadsheet needs to stand out more? That’s where the highlight function comes in handy. It allows you to color-code cells based on specific criteria, making it easier to spot important information. After reading the following quick overview, you’ll know exactly how to use the highlight function in Excel.

Step by Step Tutorial: Using the Highlight Function in Excel

Before diving into the steps, let’s understand what we’re aiming for. By following this step-by-step guide, you’ll learn how to use Excel’s conditional formatting to highlight cells that meet certain conditions. This can be incredibly useful for quickly identifying trends, outliers, or specific data points within a large dataset.

Step 1: Select the cells you want to highlight

Click and drag to select the cells you want to apply the highlight function to.

Selecting the right cells is crucial because the highlighting will only apply to your selection. If you want to highlight an entire row or column, click on the row number or column letter to select it.

Step 2: Click on the ‘Home’ tab

Find the ‘Home’ tab at the top of your Excel window and click on it.

The ‘Home’ tab is where most of the formatting tools are found, including the highlight function, which is part of Excel’s conditional formatting options.

Step 3: Click on ‘Conditional Formatting’

Within the ‘Home’ tab, locate the ‘Conditional Formatting’ button and click on it.

Conditional formatting is a powerful feature in Excel that allows you to set rules for how cells should be formatted (including highlighting) based on their content.

Step 4: Choose your highlighting criteria

Select a highlighting rule from the dropdown menu that appears after clicking ‘Conditional Formatting’.

There are several pre-set rules you can choose from, such as highlighting cells that contain certain text, have values greater than a specific number, or even identifying duplicate values.

Step 5: Customize your formatting

Customize the formatting options based on the rule you selected. This may include choosing a highlight color or specifying the text or value to trigger the highlight.

This is where you can get creative and choose colors that will make your data stand out in the way you want. Remember, the goal is to make important data easy to find at a glance.

Step 6: Click ‘OK’ to apply the highlighting

Once you’re happy with your chosen rule and formatting, click ‘OK’ to apply the highlight to your selected cells.

After clicking ‘OK’, Excel will automatically apply the highlight to any cells within your selection that meet the criteria you’ve set. The great thing about conditional formatting is that it will continue to apply this rule even as the data in the spreadsheet changes.

After completing these steps, you’ll notice that the selected cells that meet your criteria will now be highlighted in the color you chose. This visual cue can help you and others understand your data more quickly and make informed decisions based on it.

Tips: Making the Most of the Highlight Function in Excel

  • Experiment with different highlight colors to find what works best for your data.
  • Use the ‘Clear Rules’ option in the conditional formatting menu to remove highlighting if you need to start over.
  • Don’t overdo it with highlighting; too many colors can make a spreadsheet harder to read.
  • Remember you can highlight entire rows or columns if the data you’re focusing on is spread out.
  • Combine the highlight function with other Excel features, like filters, to further enhance your data analysis.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is conditional formatting in Excel?

Conditional formatting is a feature that allows you to apply specific formatting to cells that meet certain conditions or criteria.

Can I use the highlight function on a Mac version of Excel?

Yes, the highlight function and conditional formatting are available on both Windows and Mac versions of Excel.

Is it possible to highlight cells based on a formula?

Absolutely! When setting up your conditional formatting rule, you can choose to use a formula to determine which cells to highlight.

How can I remove the highlighting from my cells?

You can remove the highlighting by going back to ‘Conditional Formatting’ and selecting ‘Clear Rules’ for the selected cells or the entire sheet.

Can I copy the highlighting to other cells?

Yes, once you’ve applied conditional formatting to a cell, you can use the Format Painter tool to copy the formatting to other cells.


  1. Select the cells you want to highlight.
  2. Click on the ‘Home’ tab.
  3. Click on ‘Conditional Formatting’.
  4. Choose your highlighting criteria.
  5. Customize your formatting.
  6. Click ‘OK’ to apply the highlighting.


Mastering the highlight function in Excel can transform the way you work with data. It’s not just about making your spreadsheet pretty—it’s about efficiency and clarity. Imagine being able to glance at a sheet and immediately spot the outliers or critical issues. Excel’s conditional formatting lets you do just that, and it’s an invaluable tool in any data analyst’s arsenal.

Whether you’re keeping track of inventory, analyzing survey responses, or managing a budget, the highlight function is your friend. So go ahead, give your data the attention it deserves, and watch as your spreadsheets become more functional and informative than ever before.

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