How to Use Autofill in Excel 2016

By Greg Harvey

Many of the worksheets that you create with Excel 2016 require the entry of a series of sequential dates or numbers. Excel’s AutoFill feature makes short work of this kind of repetitive task. All you have to enter is the starting value for the series.

In most cases, AutoFill is smart enough to figure out how to fill out the series for you when you drag the fill handle to the right (to take the series across columns to the right) or down (to extend the series to the rows below).

The AutoFill (or fill) handle looks like this — + — and appears only when you position the mouse on the lower-right corner of the active cell (or the last cell, when you’ve selected a block of cells). If you drag a cell selection with the white-cross mouse pointer rather than the AutoFill handle, Excel simply extends the cell selection to those cells you drag through. If you drag a cell selection with the arrowhead pointer, Excel moves the cell selection.

When creating a series with the fill handle, you can drag in only one direction at a time. As you drag the fill handle, the program keeps you informed of whatever entry will be entered into the last cell selected in the range by displaying that entry next to the mouse pointer (a kind of AutoFill tips, if you will). After extending the range with the fill handle, Excel either creates a series in all of the cells that you select or copies the entire range with the initial value.

To the right of the last entry in the filled or copied series, Excel also displays a drop-down button that contains a shortcut menu of options. You can use this shortcut menu to override Excel’s default filling or copying.

You can use AutoFill to enter a row of months, starting with January in cell B2 and ending with June in cell G2. To do this, you simply enter Jan in cell B2 and then position the mouse pointer (or your finger or stylus) on the fill handle in the lower-right corner of this cell before you drag through to cell G2 on the right (as shown here).

To enter a series of months, enter the first month and then drag the fill handle in a direction to

To enter a series of months, enter the first month and then drag the fill handle in a direction to add sequential months.

When you release the mouse button or remove your finger or stylus from the touchscreen, Excel fills in the names of the rest of the months (Feb through Jun) in the selected cells (as shown here). Excel keeps the cells with the series of months selected, giving you another chance to modify the series. (If you went too far, you can drag the fill handle to the left to cut back on the list of months; if you didn’t go far enough, you can drag it to the right to extend the list of months farther.)

Release the mouse button, and Excel fills the cell selection with the missing months.

Release the mouse button, and Excel fills the cell selection with the missing months.

Also, you can use the options on the AutoFill Options drop-down menu shown. To display this menu, you click the drop-down button that appears on the fill handle (to the right of Jun) to override the series created by default. To have Excel copy Jan into each of the selected cells, choose Copy Cells on this menu. To have the program fill the selected cells with the formatting used in cell B2 (in this case, the cell has had bold applied to it), you select Fill Formatting Only on this menu. To have Excel fill in the series of months in the selected cells without copying the formatting used in cell B2, you select the Fill Without Formatting command from this shortcut menu.

Samples of Series You Can Create with AutoFill
Value Entered in First Cell Extended Series Created by AutoFill in the Next Three
Cells
June July, August, September
Jun Jul, Aug, Sep
Tuesday Wednesday, Thursday, Friday
Tue Wed, Thu, Fri
4/1/99 4/2/99, 4/3/99, 4/4/99
Jan-00 Feb-00, Mar-00, Apr-00
15-Feb 16-Feb, 17-Feb, 18-Feb
10:00 PM 11:00 PM, 12:00 AM, 1:00 AM
8:01 9:01, 10:01, 11:01
Quarter 1 Quarter 2, Quarter 3, Quarter 4
Qtr2 Qtr3, Qtr4, Qtr1
Q3 Q4, Q1, Q2
Product 1 Product 2, Product 3, Product 4

Working with a spaced series

AutoFill uses the initial value that you select (date, time, day, year, and so on) to design the series. You can tell AutoFill to create a series that changes by some other value: Enter two sample values in neighboring cells that describe the amount of change you want between each value in the series. Make these two values the initial selection that you extend with the fill handle.

For example, to start a series with Saturday and enter every other day across a row, enter Saturday in the first cell and Monday in the cell next door. After selecting both cells, drag the fill handle across the cells to the right as far as you need to fill out a series based on these two initial values. When you release the mouse button or remove your finger or stylus from the screen, Excel follows the example set in the first two cells by entering every other day (Wednesday to the right of Monday, Friday to the right of Wednesday, and so on).

Copying with AutoFill

You can use AutoFill to copy a text entry throughout a cell range (rather than fill in a series of related entries). To copy a text entry to a cell range, engage the Ctrl key while you click and drag the fill handle. When you do, a plus sign appears to the right of the fill handle — your sign that AutoFill will copy the entry in the active cell instead of creating a series using it. You can also tell because the entry that appears as the AutoFill tip next to the fill handle while you drag contains the same text as the original cell. If you decide after copying an initial label or value to a range that you should have used it to fill in a series, click the drop-down button that appears on the fill handle at the cell with the last copied entry and then select the Fill Series command on the AutoFill Options shortcut menu that appears.

Although holding down Ctrl while you drag the fill handle copies a text entry, just the opposite is true when it comes to values! Suppose that you enter the number 17 in a cell and then drag the fill handle across the row — Excel just copies the number 17 in all the cells that you select..

Creating custom lists for AutoFill

You can also create your own custom series with AutoFill. For example, say your company has offices in the following locations, and you get tired of typing the sequence in each new spreadsheet that requires them:

  • New York

  • Chicago

  • Atlanta

  • New Orleans

  • San Francisco

  • Los Angeles

After creating a custom list with these locations, you can enter the entire sequence of cities simply by entering New York in the first cell and then dragging the Fill handle to the blank cells where the rest of the cities should appear:

  1. Choose File→Options →Advanced or press Alt+FTA and then scroll down and click the Edit Custom Lists button in the General section to open the Options dialog box (as shown in the figure).

    If you’ve already gone to the time and trouble of typing the custom list in a range of cells, go to Step 2. If you haven’t yet typed the series in an open worksheet, go to Step 4.

    Creating a custom company location list from a range of existing cell entries.

    Creating a custom company location list from a range of existing cell entries.
  2. Click in the Import List from Cells text box and then select the range of cells in the worksheet containing the custom list.

    As soon as you start selecting the cells in the worksheet by dragging your mouse or Touch Pointer, Excel automatically collapses the Options dialog box to the minimum to get out of the way. The moment you release the mouse button or remove your finger or stylus from the screen, Excel automatically restores the Options dialog box to its normal size.

  3. Click the Import button to copy this list into the List Entries list box.

    Skip to Step 6.

  4. Select the List Entries list box and then type each entry (in the desired order), being sure to press Enter after typing each one.

    When all the entries in the custom list appear in the List Entries list box in the order you want them, proceed to Step 5.

  5. Click the Add button to add the list of entries to the Custom Lists list box.

    Finish creating all the custom lists you need, using the preceding steps. When you’re done, move to Step 6.

  6. Click OK twice, the first time to close the Options dialog box and the second to close the Excel Options dialog box and return to the current worksheet in the active workbook.

After adding a custom list to Excel, from then on you need only enter the first entry in a cell and then use the fill handle to extend it to the cells below or to the right.