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Formatting Tips for Pivot Tables

Formatting Tips for Pivot Tables 1

If you are a data jockey, you would agree with me that Pivot Tables are simply awesome! And under the hood of that awesomeness there are a lot of nick nack features (especially formatting ones) that make pivots even more awesome.

Let’s explore a few of these today!

Tip #1 Turning Off GetPivotData

Often you might find yourself writing formulas outside of the pivot table and that dirty GETPIVOTDATA thingy that pops up when you refer to a cell in a pivot table. You might have found a manual work around to this but here is how you can turn it off

Formatting Tips for Pivot Tables

  1. Select the Pivot and got to Analyse Tab
  2. Under the drop down for Options turn the GETPIVOTDATA off
  3. You’ll now forever be able to write formulas without GETPIVOTDATA bothering you


Two more things..

  1. GETPIVOTDATA is not that bad. I have put it to a great use while building dashboards. May be that topic is for another post
  2. DAX formula language in PowerPivot helps you to write (measures) formulas inside the pivot rather writing them outside


Tip #2 Convert Pivot Into Tabular Format

Formatting Tips for Pivot Tables 2

Converting the Pivot into a Tabular Format will separate out the years and regions in 2 different columns. This is something that people usually achieve by Classic Style Layout, which I don’t suggest using

Formatting Tips for Pivot Tables 3

  1. Select the Pivot and in the Design Tab
  2. Under Report Layout choose Tabular Format


Tip #3 Repeat Item Labels

At times you feel the need to repeat the Row Labels across the pivot table (esp for long pivots) Formatting Tips for Pivot Tables 5

  1. Select the Pivot and in the Design Tab
  2. Under Report Layout choose Repeat Item Labels


Tip #4 Remove the Plus/Minus (expand/collapse) buttons

Often when you add more than one field under Rows in a Pivot you’ll get a pivot table with Plus Minus buttons, essentially used to expand or collapse parts of the pivot table. Here is how you can remove them

Formatting Tips for Pivot Tables 6

  1. In the Analyse Tab
  2. Click on the Plus/Minus buttons to turn them off


Tip #5 Hide or Display Subtotals and Grand Totals

You may choose to have or hide Sub Totals or Grand Totals. The design tab gives you multiple options to display Grand Totals and Sub Totals

Formatting Tips for Pivot Tables 7


Tip #6 Hide/Display Field Headers

If in case you want to remove the pivot table field headers, you can do it this way

Formatting Tips for Pivot Tables 8


Tip #7 Pivot Table Styles (& my favorite)

Although Pivot Table’s Design Tab offers many different types of styles (look and feel) but I prefer no styling options. So I always go for None (well that’s a style name). It is neat and clean

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Tip #8 Turn Off Auto Adjust Column Width

When you are constantly shuffling fields (from rows to columns or in values) the column width changes automatically to fit the contents in the cell without wrapping it.

Although this is a good feature but I don’t find this to be helpful when my pivot tables are directly placed in Dashboards. Why..?? because this would constantly alter my screen width

So I turn off the auto fit option

Formatting Tips for Pivot Tables 10

  1. Right Click on the Pivot go to Pivot Table Options
  2. Under Layout turn off the “Autofit column width on update” option


Tip #9 Selection and Moving Pivots

I find these options incredibly helpful to move and select large pivot tables (by large I mean too many row / column fields). There are two options to select (the entire pivot or parts of it) and move the pivot table in the Analyse tab

Formatting Tips for Pivot Tables 11


Tip #10 Formatting Empty Cells in the Pivot

In case your Pivot Table has any blank cells (for values). You can choose to customize their display

Formatting Tips for Pivot Tables 12

  1. Right Click on the Pivot and go to Pivot Table Options
  2. Under Layout & Format Tab –> For empty cells show: “NIL” (you can customize this)


Tip #11 Custom Sorting of Row / Column values

This happens a lot. The default sorting order of row or column (text) labels is A-Z or Z-A. Now there are 2 ways to sort the values in a custom order

  1. You can define a custom sorting list in Excel and pivot table will then automatically adjust to the custom list
  2. Move row/columns labels manually with the mouse

Formatting Tips for Pivot Tables 13


Tip #12 Sort the Field List

This one is pretty straight forward. Sorting the field list helps especially if you have too many columns in your data.

Formatting Tips for Pivot Tables 14

  1. Click on gear icon in the field list
  2. And choose the sorting option


Tip #13 Insert a Blank Line after each Item

This one is more used from a hygiene perspective.

Formatting Tips for Pivot Tables 15

  1. From the Design Tab
  2. Under Blank Rows –> You can choose to add or delete a blank row after each item


Tip #14 Filtering Values in Pivot Tables

You must have seen filters for Row / Columns items but not for Values. Well the filter buttons are missing from the pivots. Here are 2 ways to get it

Method 1 : Is by choosing value filters in the filter drop down of the row labels

Formatting Tips for Pivot Tables 16


Method 2 : Selecting the adjacent cell outside the pivot and press CTRL SHIFT L. This will directly give you a filter on the Sales Values

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Tip #15 Disable Drill Down

Double click on the cell inside a pivot table gets you its source data. You can disable that from Pivot Table Options

Formatting Tips for Pivot Tables 18

  1. Right Click and go to Pivot Table Options
  2. Click on Data Tab and
  3. Uncheck ‘Enable Show Details’

Note that the user can turn this back on, so you might want to protect your sheet before sending it


Do you have any more formatting tips?

Please drop in a comment in case you have some regularly used formatting tactics for pivot tables.


Some More Pivot Hacks

  1. Take a Short Pivot Table Course – it’s free
  2. 16 Pivot Table Tricks – to improve your efficiency
  3. The correct way of applying Conditional Formatting in Pivot Tables
  4. Change Pivot Table Value Calculation – using VBA


  • Sonika Singh

    Hi, Super interesting post on Pivot tables, I knew almost all of them, but I learnt 4 new tips from this post, surprised with tip no. 3, 10, 13, 15. Great tips for making a dashboard.

  • GraH

    A bit off topic perhaps, since not really “formatting”, still I’d add:
    16a To prevent to make your workbook blow up (in size): make sure your pivots share the same cache and uncheck the option “save source data with file” when the data in inside the same workbook and set flag “refresh data when opening file”
    16b do the opposite if the data is external
    17 To keep filter lists and even slicers “clean”, set Number of items to retain per field to none. Useful when your data changes and values come and go.
    18 To enable different grouping of the same data in different pivots: invoke a new pivot cache (workbook will grow in size) with the old shortcut ALT + D + P and reselect the same range

  • Tejas Chaudhari

    Wow!! all my pain points have been addressed here! Great and super helpful post.

Chandeep Chhabra

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