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Customizing an Excel 2007 Pivot Table

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Microsoft Excel's Pivot Table feature allows you to present your data in a number of ways. But what happens if the default settings don't meet your needs or demands? How can you navigate the numerous places where you can customize a pivot table? Let Bill Jelen and Michael Alexander show you how easy it is to make pivot tables work for your unique needs.
This chapter is from the book


  • Making Common Cosmetic Changes 46
  • Making Layout Changes 52
  • Case Study: Converting a Pivot Table to Values 56
  • Customizing the Pivot Table Appearance with Styles and Themes 61
  • Changing Summary Calculations 65
  • Adding and Removing Subtotals 68
  • Using Running Total Options 70
  • Case Study: Producing Revenue by Line of Business Report 77
  • Next Steps 81

Although pivot tables provide an extremely fast way to summarize data, sometimes the pivot table defaults aren't exactly what you need. You can use many powerful settings to tweak the information in your pivot table. These tweaks range from making cosmetic changes to changing the underlying calculation used in the pivot table.

In Excel 2007, controls to customize the pivot table are found in a myriad of places: the Options ribbon, the Design ribbon, the Field Settings dialog box, the Data Field Settings dialog box, the PivotTable Options dialog box, and context menus. Rather than cover each set of controls sequentially, this chapter seeks to cover functional areas in customizing pivot table customization:

  • Minor Cosmetic Changes—Changing blanks to zeros, adjusting the number format, renaming a field. Although these changes are minor, they are annoying and affect almost every pivot table that you create.
  • Layout Changes—Comparing three possible layouts, showing/hiding subtotals and totals.
  • Major Cosmetic Changes—Using table styles to quickly format your table.
  • Summary Calculation—Changing from Sum to Count, Min, Max, and more. If you have a table that defaults to Count of Revenue instead of Sum of Revenue, you need to visit this section.
  • Advanced Calculation—Using settings to show data as a running total, % of total, and more.
  • Other Options—Quickly reviewing more obscure options found throughout the Excel interface.

Making Common Cosmetic Changes

A few changes need to be made to almost every pivot table. These changes make your pivot table easier to understand and interpret.

Figure 3.1 shows a typical pivot table. This pivot table has two fields in the Row Labels area and one field in the Column Labels area.

Figure 3.1

Figure 3.1 A default pivot table.

This pivot table contains several annoying items that you might want to change quickly:

  • The default table style uses no gridlines. This makes it difficult to follow the rows and columns across.
  • Numbers in the values area are in a general number format. There are no commas, currency symbols, and so on.
  • For sparse datasets, there are many blanks in the values area. The blank cell in B6 indicates that there were no sales in Denver for branch 101313. Most people would prefer to see a zero instead of blanks.
  • Excel renames fields in the values area with the unimaginative name Sum of Revenue. You can change this name.

You can correct each of these annoyances with just a few mouse clicks. The following sections address each issue.

Applying a Table Style to Restore Gridlines

The default pivot table layout contains no gridlines. This format is annoying and a giant step backward. Luckily, you can easily apply a table style. Any table style that you choose will be better than the default.

Follow these steps to apply a table style:

  1. Make sure that the active cell is in the pivot table.
  2. From the Ribbon, choose the Design tab.
  3. Three arrows appear at the right side of the PivotTable Style gallery. Click the bottom arrow to open the complete gallery, as shown in Figure 3.2.
    Figure 3.2

    Figure 3.2 The gallery contains 75 styles to choose from.

  4. Choose any style other than the first style from the drop-down. Styles toward the bottom of the gallery tend to have more formatting.

It doesn't matter which style you choose from the gallery; any of the 74 other styles are better than the default style.

For more details about customizing styles, see "Customizing the Pivot Table Appearance with Styles and Themes," p. 61.

Changing the Number Format to Add Thousands Separators

If you've gone to the trouble of formatting your underlying data, you might expect that the pivot table would capture some of this formatting. Unfortunately, it does not.

Even if your underlying data fields were formatted with a certain numeric format, the default pivot table presents values formatted with a general format.

For example, in the figures in this chapter, the numbers are in the hundreds of thousands. At this level of sales, you would normally have a thousands separator and probably no decimal places. Although the original data had a numeric format applied, the pivot table routinely formats your numbers in an ugly general style.

You access the numeric format for a field in the Data Field Settings dialog box. There are four ways to display this dialog box:

  1. Right-click a number in the values area of the pivot table and choose Value Field Settings.
  2. Double-click the Sum of Revenue cell in cell A3 of Figure 3.3.
    Figure 3.3

    Figure 3.3 Display the Data Field Settings dialog box and then click Number Format.

  3. Click the drop-down arrow on the Sum of Revenue field in the drop zones of the PivotTable Field List. Then choose Field Settings from the context menu.
  4. Select any cell in the values area of the pivot table. From the Options ribbon, choose Field Settings from the Active Field group.

As shown in Figure 3.3, the Data Field Settings dialog box is displayed. To change the numeric format, click the Number Format button in the lower-left corner.

In the Format Cells dialog box, you can choose any built-in number format or choose a custom format. The custom number format shown in Figure 3.4 displays numbers in thousands with a K abbreviation after the number.

Figure 3.4

Figure 3.4 Choose an easier-to-read number format from the Format Cells dialog box.

Replacing Blanks with Zeros

One of the elements of good spreadsheet design is that you should never leave blank cells in a numeric section of the worksheet. Even Microsoft believes in this rule; if your source data for a pivot table contains 1 million numeric cells and 1 blank cell, Excel 2007 treats the entire column as if it were text. This is why it is incredibly annoying that the default setting for a pivot table leaves many blanks in the values area of some pivot tables.

The blank tells you that there were no sales for that particular combination of labels. In the default view, an actual zero is used to indicate that there was activity, but the total sales were zero. This value might mean that a customer bought something and then returned it, resulting in net sales of zero. Although there are limited applications in which you would want to differentiate between having no sales and having net zero sales, this seems rare. In 99% of the cases, you should fill in the blank cells with zeros.

Follow these steps to change this setting for the current pivot table:

  1. Select a cell inside the pivot table.
  2. On the Options ribbon, choose the Options icon from the Pivot Table Options group to display the PivotTable Options dialog box.
  3. On the Layout & Format tab, in the Format section, type 0 next to the field labeled For Empty Cells Show (see Figure 3.5).
    Figure 3.5

    Figure 3.5 Enter a zero here to replace the blank cells with zero.

  4. Click OK to accept the change.

The result is that the pivot table is filled with zeros instead of blanks, as shown in Figure 3.6.

Figure 3.6

Figure 3.6 Your report is now a solid contiguous block of non-blank cells.

Changing a Field Name

Every field in the final pivot table has a name. Fields in the row, column, and filter areas inherit their names from the heading in the source data. Fields in the data section are given names such as Sum of Revenue. In some instances, you may prefer to print a different name in the pivot table. You might prefer Total Revenue instead of the default name. In these situations, the capability to change your field names comes in quite handy.

Although many of the names are inherited from headings in the original dataset, when your data is from an external data source, you might not have control over field names. In these cases, you might want to change the names of the fields as well.

To change a field name in the values area, follow these steps:

  1. Select a cell in the pivot table that contains the appropriate value. In Figure 3.7, the values area contains both hours and revenue. If you want to rename Sum of Revenue, select any cell from B5:B24.
    Figure 3.7

    Figure 3.7 The name typed in the Custom Name box appears in the pivot table. Although names should be unique, you can trick Excel into accepting a similar name by adding a space to the end of it.

  2. On the Options ribbon, select the Field Settings icon from the Active Field group.
  3. In the Data Field Settings dialog box, type a new name in the Custom Name field. You can enter any unique name you like. One common frustration occurs when you would like to rename Sum of Revenue to Revenue. The problem is that this name is not allowed because it is not unique; you already have a Revenue field in the source data. To work around this limitation, you can name the field and add a space to the end of the name. Excel considers "Revenue" (with a space) to be different from "Revenue" (with no space). Because this change is cosmetic, the readers of your spreadsheet will not notice the space after the name.

The new name appears in the pivot table. Now look at cell B5 in Figure 3.7. The name Revenue (with a space) is less awkward than the default Sum of Revenue.

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