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Issue #815: March 5-11, 2023

Issue #815 – Publication Week: March 5-11, 2023

Q: I just got a new computer in November, equipped with Windows 10. I purchased and installed Microsoft Office. My problem is that I cannot change the text color or add a background color fill in Excel. I am up to date according to Microsoft. I have also turned off Conditional Formatting. How do I get the colors to function?

– Crystal G.
Baker, Florida

A: It wasn’t really clear to me from your question whether the formatting options that you’re trying to use are unavailable to you (greyed-out) or if you able to activate them but they’re just not functioning correctly. The answer to that will probably be key to unlocking an answer for you.

By way of background, there are multiple ways that Excel can format cells, and it would take substantially more space than I have for this column to go through them one by one, and ask “Are you doing this?” and “Have you tried that?” But there are some principal methods that I can cover in hopes of maybe shaking something loose.

Before we go there, I’m wondering whether this happens with all workbooks you open, or only with new ones that you create using the newly installed software?  Or perhaps vice-versa?  If it’s happening only on some, the problem is likely settings within those workbooks themselves.  If it’s happening with all workbooks, the problem is probably either a setting in the Excel software, or a defect in the software installation.

At the risk of insulting your intelligence, I feel compelled to cover at least one method to perform the functions you want.  I feel like you probably already know how to do this, but I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t pass along what I know.

One very important thing is to make sure you have selected the cell or range of cells to which you want to apply the color before you make the attempt.  This is most commonly done by simply pointing with your mouse and clicking.  If you want to select more than one cell, drag the cursor without releasing the click.  You can tell when you have a selection because it will have a thicker border than other cells.

The controls to perform the color tasks are displayed on the tool ribbon at the top of the window any time you have the “Home” tab selected.  All you should have to do is select the text, cell or group of cells that you want to color, then click either the “Fill Color” control (little paint can icon) or the “Font Color” control (the letter A with a color bar underneath) to both choose a color and apply it to your selection.

I think you may have been little hasty to dismiss the one thing I would have most suspected as the culprit in your case: Conditional Formatting.  It’s been my experience that many times people – including me – think a feature is turned off and proceed under that assumption only to find that it was still on the whole time. For those of you who use Excel but are not familiar with Conditional Formatting, it allows you to provide a set of rules to Excel for any given cell, and it will format the text in that cell according to your instructions.  For example, it can show negative values in red and positive values in black.  So, Crystal, to eliminate the possibility that Conditional Formatting might be the culprit, you can remove all Conditional Formatting from a worksheet by selecting the “Home” tab and clicking “Conditional Formatting” in the “Styles” section. Click on “Clear Rules” and then in the slide-off menu, click “Clear Rules from Entire Sheet”.

Formatting using color is such a basic function of Excel that if, after all of the above, you still find that the color options aren’t working, I can only conclude that there must be something wrong with your installation of Office.  At that point, I’m sorry to say that a removal and re-install may be in order.


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