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Introduction to Pivot Tables in Excel


Pivot tables are one of many Excel features that tend to draw blank stares from uninitiated users. Many unwittingly assume pivot tables are an advanced feature beyond their grasp. That's hardly the case, and in this article, you'll see how to create your first pivot table. You can run into complexities once you start pushing the bounds of pivot tables, but early on you can avoid problems if your data confirms to a handful of specifications:

  • Ideal data for a pivot table must be a list, such as shown the figure below.
  • The first row must contain unique titles for each column, with each title residing in a single cell.
  • Blank cells are permitted, but you should avoid blank cells within columns otherwise composed of numbers.
  • You cannot have any entirely blank rows or columns within the list.
  • Make sure to remove any existing subtotal or total rows from the list so that you don't double-count any data.

To create a pivot table:

  1. Select any cell within the list.
  2. Activate Excel's Insert menu.
  3. Choose the PivotTable command.
  4. Click OK when the Create PivotTable dialog box appears.

At this point a blank pivot table canvas will appear on screen, along with two new pivot table-related menus and a field list. The menus and field list vanish when you select any cell outside of the pivot table canvas, but return as soon as you click back inside the pivot table. The field list is the primary tool you'll use to craft pivot tables. The list comprises the column headings from your list.

To populate a pivot table, simply click the checkbox adjacent to any field within the PivotTable Field List. By default, Excel will place text-based fields in the Rows section, and number-based fields in the Values section. You can also drag fields into the Filter or Column sections. A huge benefit of pivot tables is the immediate feedback that you receive when you place a field in any of the 4 quadrants. You can drag a field into another quadrant to change the look of your report, or drag it out of the field list completely to remove it from the report. If pivot tables still feel intimidating, in Excel 2013 and later, the Recommended PivotTable command on the Insert menu will give you a jump start.


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