Outline Groups

Let me ask you a question.  How do you hide a row or a column? Since this is Excel we are talking about, there are several methods to accomplish this goal.

Common Approaches

One common approach is to select the row or column, and then select the Hide command, either from the Format Ribbon icon or the right-click shortcut menu.  Another common approach is by changing the row height or column width to zero.  These are probably the two most common methods.  However, there are problems with these methods.

One problem is that it is hard to tell if a row or column has been hidden.  You need to carefully examine the row and column headers and look for missing items.  For example, the column labels skip from B to F in the screenshot below.

Hidden Columns

Another problem is that it takes too long to unhide the rows or columns.  Let’s look at another method to hide rows and columns: outline groups.

Outline Groups

The Outline feature has been available in Excel for many years.  It is my preferred method for hiding rows or columns.  When a row or column is hidden with this feature, Excel provides a button that you can click to show/hide the group.  This provides a visual indicator letting you know a row or column is hidden, and, it makes it fast and easy to show/hide.

The feature is easy to use. Simply select the row/s or column/s you wish to hide.  Then, click the following Ribbon tab:

  • Data > Group > Group

The selected row/s or column/s will now be included in an outline group, as illustrated by columns C:E below.

Excel Column Outline

Now it is easy to hide and unhide the group, simply click on the outline button.  The screenshot below shows the hidden outline group.

Excel Hidden Outline

In addition to clicking the outline button to individually show/hide an outline group, you can show/hide all groups by clicking the little 1 and 2 buttons.  You can also create a hierarchy of nested groups, and each level gets a new outline button.  This feature provides an excellent way to hide rows or columns, and I hope you dig it.

And remember, Excel rules!



Jeff Lenning

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  1. CHAO JIN on September 18, 2014 at 5:44 pm

    It’s really nice. I like it. Thank you.

  2. John Dunsdon on March 20, 2015 at 9:12 am

    A nice feature I wasn’t aware of. I will have to consider ways to use this in the future. Thanks.

  3. Dwain Hendrickson on December 21, 2015 at 12:00 pm

    This was very informative. I think it is most efficient way to hide columns and rows and will use it gong

  4. James Higginson-Rollins on December 28, 2015 at 7:37 am

    And to un-hook the columns from ability to hide, use “Unhook”.

  5. James Higginson-Rollins on December 28, 2015 at 7:37 am

    And to un-hook the columns from ability to hide, use “Unhook”.

  6. Monique` O'Dell on February 4, 2016 at 4:55 pm

    The ability to show both show and hide columns and rows with a button is very convenient.

  7. Logan Nemeth on February 14, 2016 at 11:59 am

    This is very useful. Being able to show both and hide both columns and rows is nice

  8. Maryann Losier on May 24, 2016 at 11:26 am

    Very cool (and easy). Thanks 🙂

  9. Ron on June 9, 2016 at 7:57 am

    This will be useful when preparing a table in excel to be used in a report.

  10. Karen on July 29, 2016 at 10:51 am

    Have seen this used before, but never knew how to set it up.

  11. Maura on August 23, 2016 at 7:35 pm

    I love this tip, Jeff! It makes hiding columns easier to uncover and avoids missing any.

  12. Mirna Cereceres on April 30, 2017 at 10:47 am

    This is a cool tip. It makes it easier to see you have hidden rows

  13. JoAnne Zimmerman on July 21, 2017 at 7:17 pm

    I really like this tip very useful.

  14. Kimberly Hake on September 18, 2017 at 8:53 am

    This is very useful

  15. Jim Heetderks on November 10, 2017 at 2:08 pm

    That is a very good idea. Jeff is right that if you manually hide columns you have little or no visual reminder that you’ve done so and it’s easy to waste time figuring out why a column does not appear to be subtotaling correctly, etc.

  16. John O'Sullivan on January 1, 2018 at 6:07 pm

    Have used outline groups in number of instances; very useful means of also presenting data in summarized form by hiding rows & columns.

  17. Dorothy on May 21, 2018 at 11:04 am

    Very helpful feature

  18. Sarah Moon on June 21, 2018 at 4:12 pm

    A concern was that I would overlook a hidden row/column but this is helpful!

  19. Janet Chi on May 22, 2019 at 11:38 am

    Nice tip – Thank you!

  20. Lara Thomas on April 14, 2020 at 8:50 am

    Is there a way make adjacent group outlines? For example first group columns A-C, but then create a separate, adjacent “group” in column D hide that column? Or do you have to use the Hide feature to only hide 1 adjacent column? I what I am trying to achieve is a a way to use the quick outline + opening function to show/hide that one column, next to an adjacent group of columns that I would also like to show/hide at times.

  21. Linda Restel on September 4, 2020 at 7:38 pm

    Just so I am clear. I have a spreadsheet divided into monthly columns. I drop in actual results for each month at the end of that month and all the remaining months are hidden. At the beginning of each month, I unhide the next month and hide the remaining months.

    If I used the Outline technique, would I outline each month separately beginning with February and unhide them one month at a time…I would have a separate number along the top left for each outline; i.e. month?

  22. Mary Norman on January 5, 2023 at 3:42 am

    Very useful – will be great to be able to see at a glance if there are hidden rows or columns.

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