If you use Microsoft Excel to organize data (say, a timeline or a list of documents being produced), you may have run into the problem of having more text than will fit into a normal cell. You need to either wrap text like a paragraph or insert line breaks in the middle of the Excel cell, because otherwise the text just breaks out of the borders of the cell and keeps on going:
And if that’s not annoying enough, if you have to type something into the cell to the right, then you’ve just cut off the last part of that other cell:
What you want to be able to do is either (a) have the information in the first cell wrap text in Excel like a paragraph so it appears on multiple lines within that cell or (b) insert a line break like you would in a word processor.
Here’s how you do each:
If it really doesn’t matter where the line wraps (as long as everything stays within the same cell), then the thing to do is format the cell so that the text wraps automatically. Although the different versions of Excel (from 2002 through 2019) have various buttons and commands to do this, the one foolproof method that works in all versions is this:
- Right-click your mouse inside the cell.
- You’ll see a menu that looks like this:
Right-click on any cell to get this contextual menu
- Once you have the Format Cells dialog box open, go to the Alignment tab and check the box next to Wrap Text:
- The text in that cell will now wrap automatically.
Wrap text in Excel 2007 & up
In the Ribbon-based versions of Excel , this is a one-click operation. Just go to the Home tab and click on Wrap Text:
Good news: You can apply this formatting to more than one cell at a time. You can select multiple cells by holding down the CNTRL key while clicking on them, select entire columns or rows by clicking on their headers (the “A, B, C” on top of columns or the “1, 2, 3” to the left of rows), or even select the entire spreadsheet by clicking on the upper-left-hand corner (where the A and 1 meet). Once you’ve selected all your cells, then just follow the steps above.
Inserting a line break within a cell
But what if you want to control exactly where the line breaks (say, you want an address to appear like this):
Even easier! After you type each line, just press ALT-ENTER on your keyboard to insert a hard return. (If you’re using the Mac version of Excel, it’s CTRL-OPTION-ENTER or CTRL-COMMAND-ENTER.)
Controlling vertical alignment
By default, data in cells is aligned at the bottom. This can create some readability problems if some of your cells have multiple lines:
If you have a particular preference as to whether the cell text aligns from the top, the bottom, or in the center, select all the cells you want to re-align, then right-click to get the menu (as we saw above), choose Format Cells, and go back to the Alignment tab.
See that drop-down menu that says Vertical (above)? That allows you to change the vertical alignment within the cells you have selected. If you want everything to line up across the top, then choose Top. If you want everything centered, choose Center. You get the idea, right?
Update: Copying cells that have hard returns
Down in the comments, there’s a bit of a controversy about whether you can successfully copy a cell into which you’ve embedded hard returns to another cell. Some readers are finding that, when they copy and paste, each line ends up in a different cell. There’s a reason for that.
Here’s a quick guide to both “how to” and “how NOT to” copy-and-paste cells that contain line breaks: