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Creating a custom timeline in Excel

Unless otherwise noted, all instructions and screenshots are from Microsoft Office for Windows.

Recently, a fellow reader, Jessica from Miami, asked if I would help her figure out a way to create an event timeline in a format her boss is partial to:

Example of a timeline created in Microsoft Excel She had tried to find templates online, but nothing really seemed geared to a legal context.

I tried creating a solution in Word, but it was less than satisfactory.  So, given that Jessica was pretty comfortable with Excel, I developed a template for her there.

Changing the orientation of text within cells (vertical, horizontal, or diagonal, as in the example above) is actually pretty easy — here, I’ll show you:

(To view in full-screen mode, click the button in the lower right-hand corner.)

There’s other formatting done here too — the cells are wrapped (the Wrap Text checkbox above), I shifted the vertical alignment to Bottom, and in some cases, to get the middle cell to look more “centered,” I added a hard return before the text (with ALT-ENTER).  There’s a fair bit of eyeballing that has to be done to get it to look right, and it’s all a judgment call according to your personal preference.

What uses could you find for this trick?  Let me know in the comments below.

(P.S.: Jessica seemed to be pretty happy with her new template last I heard!)

by Deborah Savadra

I spend an inordinate amount of my time playing with computers and attempting to explain technology to lawyers and law office staff. It's not always easy, but someone's got to do it.

WOW – You read that whole post!

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  1. Thank you so much for responding so quickly and professionally to my “challenge”! The document was incredibly helpful and I’ve put it to use right away.

  2. This is really helpful! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Great tutorial. It went hand-in-hand with the other Excel tutorial on hard returns, text alignment and formatting. Managed to follow the steps easily, but I was hoping to find out the trick for creating the diagonal lines in your top row of cells.

    1. Once you slant the text, the cell borders (if you have created any) will be slanted as well. When you’re in Format Cell, click on the Border tab and set up your cell borders.

      1. LOL – that seems too easy. Maybe I’ve been intimidated by Excel all these years without good reason.


    1. Wow – I’m glad you’ve found a good use for this! 🙂