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!



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This article was written by Jeff Lenning



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

  2. John Dunsdon

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

  3. Dwain Hendrickson

    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

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

  5. James Higginson-Rollins

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

  6. Monique` O'Dell

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

  7. Logan Nemeth

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

  8. Maryann Losier

    Very cool (and easy). Thanks 🙂

  9. Ron

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

  10. Karen

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

  11. Maura

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

  12. Mirna Cereceres

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

  13. JoAnne Zimmerman

    I really like this tip very useful.

  14. Kimberly Hake

    This is very useful

  15. Jim Heetderks

    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

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

  17. Dorothy

    Very helpful feature

  18. Sarah Moon

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

  19. Janet Chi

    Nice tip – Thank you!

  20. Lara Thomas

    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.

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