Of all the work-related items I need to do, the one I hate is inputting data. It’s mind numbing and given the chance, I’ll make mistakes. One way I found to make the process easier is to use Excel forms. These data entry forms are especially beneficial when your records span across many columns.
I’ll admit entering data into Microsoft Excel isn’t difficult. You type in one cell and move to the next. However, I had a project where each record spanned past the width of my monitor so I had a horizontal scrollbar. And several cells contained a paragraph of pasted text. I wanted an input method that would allow me to focus on one entry. This would also make it easier to copy and paste information from a source PDF document to the required textbox.
The problem with using the default data entry method is that it’s easy to lose sight of your target. You also have to navigate to the next row. A data form solves these issues.
What is an Excel Data Form?
A data form is simply a modal dialog box with the fields for one record. The form sits on top of your Excel spreadsheet and allows you to enter up to 32 fields per record. You might think of it as an on-screen form or template.
Your column headers become the form field names. This is different than a custom Excel form a developer might create using VBA.
There are five main differences with the Excel forms.
- The form isolates one record or row.
- Your orientation is vertical, not horizontal.
- Some fields have keyboard shortcuts allowing you to jump within the form.
- You have a series of form buttons on the right-side to control navigation and filters.
- The whole record is committed as opposed to each cell.
Using the form, I can enter data faster and when I Tab to the end of the form, I can hit Enter to start another record. I can also navigate through the records using the controls on the right side.
Creating the Excel Form
In this example, I’ll create a form based on an existing spreadsheet with 6 fields. Once the form is created, I can use it to add or edit records.
To create the Data Form,
- Open your spreadsheet.
- Adjust the width in Column A to a suitable width for all columns. The form will use this width as the default size for all form fields.
- Verify all your columns have a heading.
- Highlight your data range including column labels.
- From the Data tab, select Form.
You can click cell A1 and then Ctrl + Shift + → + ↓.
In earlier versions of Microsoft Excel this function was on the Data menu. You may need to add the Form…command back on the Excel Ribbon or Quick Access toolbar. For this article, I added the command to my Data tab, but some people prefer to create a new tab called Forms.
If you have existing records, you will see a form for each record. If your spreadsheet is new, you’ll see a blank form with your labels.
You can use the Close button to shut down the form. To open again, click any cell within your defined range and click the Form button again on your ribbon or toolbar. You will see the form related to the clicked cell.
Making the Form Semi-Smart with Validation
Many seasoned Excel users like to use a feature called data validation. As the name suggests, this feature checks a cell’s value against a validation rule. There are a number of validation rules such as time formats, number ranges, text length, etc. However, there is one rule that may cause issues and that’s when you use a list.
For example, in the screen snap below, I have a validation rule that checks to see if the entry in the cell is contained on a “state” list which shows off screen. You’ll also see a drop-down arrow to the right of the cell which shows valid entries and a scroll bar.
While I can use data validation with my data form, I will not be able to see the drop-down list. Instead of choosing from a pick list, I’ll need to type my entry. The issue here is that you might make errors. In the example below, you’ll see I’ve tried to add Disneyland.
As you can see the logic is working, but the user might not know how to tackle. This is a case where you’d want to add a custom error message to help the user.
Finding and Filtering Records
Data forms do have some rudimentary filtering features. These are found by clicking the Criteria button on the right side. The form will then clear any values and allow you to enter some values. The button also changes to Form so you can toggle back and forth.
In the example below, I’m looking to find any states that have more than 10 members in the US House. In the text box, I typed >10.
While this search works, it’s going to return one matching record at a time. To navigate to the others, you would use the Find Prev and Find Next buttons. Apart from number searches, you can also use wildcards as well. A question mark will represent any single character and an asterisk will represent any number of characters.
Data Form Limitations
As much as I like this form functionality, there are some limitations.
- If you get an error saying too many fields in the data form, you may have more than 32 columns. If so, try using a smaller range.
- If you get an error that states, “This can’t be applied to the selected range”, you probably clicked a cell outside the range.
- If your sheet has dependent lists, they won’t show in the data form. The logic will still work.
- You can’t print a data form record.
- You can’t enter an Excel formula into a data form field.
If you need more than 32 fields, you can use a 3rd party utility such as the free Enhanced Data Form from John Walkenbach.
While Excel forms may not make data entry fun, they do speed up the process.
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