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Best Practice

Creating columns of decimal-aligned numbers

A thoughtful approach to aligning columns of numbers provide a few benefits to the presenter and audience:

  • Decimal-aligned numbers allow comparisons to be made quickly
  • Outliers (very large and very small numbers) can be easily identified
  • Left-aligned numbers that are also decimal aligned provide a clean and discernible column, even without the help of divider lines.
Columns of Numbers

The graphic on the right shows all of the guidelines for creating a left-aligned and decimal-aligned column of numbers. The unit signs ($ in this case) are in the first row and the total row only. Notice that the dollar sign is perfectly left-aligned with the column heading. The largest number in the column is perfectly left-aligned in the column, even though it is also decimal aligned. The negative numbers are perfectly aligned. The bold totals are perfectly left aligned as well as decimal aligned. This is a professional approach to formatting columns of numbers

The easiest way to enter and format columns of numbers is as follows:

  1. Enter in all of the numbers first – don't worry about the formatting.
    • Make sure that your text is left-aligned in the cells
    • If you are entering the first number in the column, type the dollar sign. Omit the dollar signs in all other cells except the cell that contains the total for the column
    • Enter a Ctrl-Tab – don't worry if it bounces your numbers around
    • Then enter the numbers and the decimal point (if you don't need a decimal point, omit it – the decimal alignment will still work).
    • Enter negative numbers using a minus sign instead of parentheses.
    • Don't bold column totals yet.
  2. Identify the largest number in the column; it is usually the total.
  3. Place a decimal tab in the cell containing the largest number so that the number aligns on the decimal and also perfectly left aligns next to the dollar sign (if you are formatting the total for the column). When you add the decimal tab, you may need to adjust it a few times to get the alignments perfect. See the figure $1,683.7 in the graphic above: there is no space between the $ and the 1,683.7 even though there is a Ctrl-Tab between the two.
  4. Copy this decimal format with the Format Painter tool and then "paint" it into the other cells in this column. The numbers will all "jump" into place. The highlighted paintbrush is the Format Painter. Get to know this tool; it will save you a lot of time.
  5. Format the other columns in a similar manner. If you're formatting a column of percentages, begin with a Ctrl-Tab and place the "%" after the number in the first/top cell in the column and after the total percentage in the last/bottom cell in the column. Make these adjustments for other numbers and units as necessary.

This technique is useful with the text tables in TT005.