The Ultimate Guide to Bullet Points in Excel

Last updated on January 11, 2012 By

Would you like to know how to insert a bullet point in Excel? For a long time I thought there was only one way to do this – type a lower-case letter “l” in the font Wingdings to insert a round bullet point character.

But now I know that Excel is such a versatile bit of software, there’s always more than one way to do something with Excel. So I decided to set out and find new ways to create bullet points in Excel. I discovered five different ways to add bullets in Excel and I’ll show you them in depth. Plus there are 5 fab videos to watch.

Bullet points in Excel

We’ll look at 5 different ways to add bullet points in Excel, starting with the fastest and ending with the most creative.

  • Type a bullet using ALT key combinations
  • Type a bullet using special fonts (like Wingdings)
  • Add a bullet with custom cell number formatting
  • Insert bullets using a Text box
  • Create your bullets with SmartArt

If you know of other ways that I didn’t mention, please share in the comments.

1) In-cell bullet points in Excel with the ALT key

This is the simplest and fastest way of adding bullet points in Excel.

You hold down the ALT key and then type one of the following numbers using the number keypad (that’s the one on the right hand side of the keyboard).

  • ALT + 7 is my personal favorite for adding a round bullet in Excel.

If you’re using a laptop you will need to turn on the number keypad feature because this tip doesn’t work with the row of numbers above your alphabet keys.

Here’s a one minute video showing this in action:

[tubepress video=”q2-PhorzoFY”]

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2) Bullet in Excel using special fonts

Method number 2 allows you to get quite fancy with your bullets.

You must first pick a font with lots of symbols in it (e.g. Wingdings) and then type in a character to use as the bullet. As you can see from the picture below, there are a lot of good bullet point symbols in Wingdings which is why I suggest using Wingdings for bullet points:

So let’s say we want to add a bullet using the Wingdings font. Here are three ways to do it:

1. Type the character straight in – Change the font to Wingdings, and type the matching letter to add a bullet character. For example if you type lowercase letter “l” you get a round bullet point symbol. This only works if you can type the character using your keyboard. On standard keyboards you’ve got around 100 keys, but every font set has 256 characters so about half of these can’t be typed straight from your keyboard.

2. Use the CHAR() function – To access all 256 characters in the Wingdings font, you can type in the formula =CHAR(nnn) where nnn is the character number you want to insert. Refer to the picture above for some starter ideas.

3. Insert a symbol via the Excel menu or ribbon – In Excel 2010 you click on the Insert Menu, find the Symbols group, click on Symbol to insert a symbol, then select the font and symbol of your choice. Excel shows you a map of all the available characters and you can page up and down to find a suitable character.

As I said before, using a special font allows you to create fancy bullets because you can pick from a huge range of characters. But on the downside it’s slower than just typing ALT + 7.

You can watch me talk through the three options in my two-minute video:
[tubepress video=”drH-738nXLc”]

3) Use custom cell formatting to insert Excel bullet

Excel gives you the option of changing the Number format for each cell. Using this feature it’s possible to insert a bullet in front of any text you type in a cell.

The advantage of this method over the previous two methods is that you only need to type in the bullet one time to define your custom bullet format.

After you define your custom bullet format, you can copy it to other cells – and hey presto you immediately have bullet points in those cells without having to type anything.

How to define a custom cell format to add bullet points

  • Select your cell, right-click and select Format Cells
  • Select Category: Custom
  • Click inside the “Type:” box and enter the following text

1. Select your cell, right-click and select Format Cells

2. Select Category: Custom

3. Click inside the “Type:” box and enter the following text

The result is that you have defined a custom number format for your bullet point lists.

Note that if you apply this custom format to a blank cell you don’t see a bullet until you write some text. So if you want bullets followed by “empty space” then you should either insert a space or use the single quote character ‘ to tell Excel that the cell contains text.

You can also indent your bullet points to add different levels, for example level 1 text is your main text then level 2 text is indented as your supporting text.

Watch my two-minute video to see this in action.

[tubepress video=”pUZI_B8TcOk”]

Note 1 : How to apply custom formats to multiple cells

You can copy and paste a custom cell format using the Format Painter. In Excel 2010 you can find this on the Home tab, inside the Clipboard group.

Or you could right-click on a cell that’s got custom formatting, and this brings up the context menu with a button for the format painter.

I show how to use the Format Painter in my short video above.

Note 2 : The Keyboard Shortcut to Format Cells is CTRL + 1

A pretty handy keyboard shortcut is CTRL + 1. You can use it instead of right-clicking on a cell to access the Format Cells option.

This brings up the Format Cells dialog box so you can define your own custom number formatting, or play around with cell borders and text alignment.

  • Select the cell(s) you wish to format
  • Hold the Control key, then press 1 (CTRL + 1)
  • This brings up the Format Cells dialog box

4) Text box bullets in Excel

If you’re adding notes to an Excel worksheet, you can put the text in a textbox instead of using the cells. And in a textbox there are some nice formatting options, including a built-in bullets command.

To add bullets to your text boxes in Excel 2010, right-click on the text, and in the popup context menu click Bullets.

Then select the bullet style that you want. Or click the Bullets and Numbering command to see more options.

Here’s a one minute video showing this in action:
[tubepress video=”n1buJzOwW50″]

5) SmartArt bullets in Excel

Finally we get to the creative part where you can let yourself loose and create your own SmartArt complete with bullets in Excel. This works for Excel 2007 and 2010 – prior versions of Excel don’t have SmartArt.

For this to work you need to find a SmartArt graphic that includes bullet points in its design. There is no way to add them if they are not in the shape already. This means you need to browse around to find the right graphic.

To give you some ideas here are some examples that I created in a couple of minutes using SmartArt:

Let’s say you are starting from scratch. Here are the steps in Excel 2010:

  • Add a new SmartArt graphic by clicking on the Insert menu, and clicking on SmartArt
  • Click the SmartArt graphic that you want to add
  • While the SmartArt is selected, add text to the text pane
  • Bullets are automatically added as you type text into level 2 text
  • Craft your SmartArt by playing around with the options until it’s just how you want it.

Note that if you add text but don’t see any bullets, it’s time to choose another SmartArt graphic. This is because the layout for the SmartArt graphic controls whether there are bullets in the shape.

Sadly you can’t style the bullets that you create with SmartArt. The styling is determined by the SmartArt. Maybe this is something that Microsoft is working on for the next release of Excel?

Right, here’s a two-minute video showing this in action:

What next? Create your own bullet point lists in Excel!

Skill in Excel is only developed with lots of practice, so I recommend you go and get some practice. You never know when you’ll need to add a bullet point in your spreadsheets.

Go and try out one or more or all of these methods for creating bullets in Excel – right away. And if you know of other ways to create bullets in Excel that I didn’t mention, please write a comment below and explain how.

And if you interested in formatting tricks, you might want to check out my article on watermarks or my video on using conditional formatting to create checkmarks. Cheers!

Launch Excel

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Hey, I'm Victor Chan

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