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Bullet Points in Google Sheets

bullet points in google sheets

Spreadsheet programs were created to help maintain and organize data in a tabulated format, something that is not easy to do with a word processing program such as Microsoft Word, especially with large datasets.

Word processors cannot easily organize data into rows and columns, just as they cannot understand and therefore handle the differences between the data types such as text, integers and scientific numeric representation, date and time, percentages, and currency, which is very important in financial spreadsheets.

Not only can spreadsheet programs distinguish between these different data types, but they can also sort them, perform mathematical calculations, and execute formulas on them, something that would be near impossible to do with a word processor.

On the flip side, spreadsheets are not really intended to be used as text editors.

As we’ve just said, they are used to handle data, leaving text or document editing to word processors.

Occasionally though, there comes a need, albeit not too often, when we need to apply some fancy text styling.

One of these occasions is to add bullet points.

In a word processor, there is a special option that does this automatically, creating bulleted lists with bullet symbols and indentation.

No such luck with spreadsheets.

While bullet points are not as easy to create and use in a spreadsheet program such as Google sheets, it is not impossible either.

After all, a bullet point is just another character.

In all honesty, if you are going to be using a lot of bulleted text, then the easiest and quickest way to go about it is to enter your text in a word processing program like Google Docs or MS Word, and then copy paste it from there into your spreadsheet.

The text shown above has been entered into a LibreOffice Writer document and formatted into a few different bullet list styles.

The first is your plain vanilla bullet list.

The second is a numbered list where in place of bullet points, we’ve used lower case Roman numerals.

The third style is a sub-list within a list and shows the double indentation.

All these were created in a matter of seconds using options from the word processor’s tool bar.

We can now select and copy paste any of these, from the word processor into our spreadsheet.

Here we are, back in our spreadsheet. Now, and this is very important, double click inside the cell where you want to enter you bullet list, then paste using Ctrl-V.

If you don’t double click to access the cell, when you paste the bulleted text, it will be inserted into consecutive rows and the bullet points and any indentation will have been lost.

You’ll probably also need to adjust the column width, otherwise the cell bounding box will cover over adjacent columns.

Other than that, that was so quick and easy to do.

And here is our spreadsheet with all three styles pasted in.

Notice how the double indentation in the third bullet list has been maintained.

If you again double click inside any of the cells with the bullet lists and move the cursor around, you should notice that the indentation has been accomplished using the space character.

Google sheets does not accept the tab character, nor does it allow margins to be set inside individual cells, rows, or columns.

So the only way to mimic indentation is to space fill to the desired gap. The only real magic here, is the bullets themselves.

The solid-fill, round bullet is not a character found on any ordinary keyboard, but as we’ll see in a moment, it is possible to generate it from the keyboard.

Which brings us to another way of creating bullet points.

The previous example is fine if you have a large list or several lists to enter, but is a bit of an overkill if you just want to throw in a bullet point here and there.

For this, there are two options available.

If you already have a bullet point anywhere in your sheet or in another document, simply select the bullet character (as seen in the case of the first bullet item in the screenshot above), and press Ctrl-C to copy it to your clipboard.

Then, whenever you need to use it, paste it in with Ctrl-V.

This will provide the bullet point but no indentation, so if you want to indent, prefix it with spaces.

Another way of generating the bullet point, is directly from the keyboard with the following keystrokes: Alt-7.

This will only work on Windows platforms and the 7 has to be the key on the numeric keypad.

However, not all devices, including laptops, have a numeric keypad.

Also available on Windows platforms is the Character Map application.

It displays all characters for all fonts installed on the user’s PC. Using it (assuming you are running on a Windows system), you can select any printable character (including special symbols), copy it to the clipboard, and then paste it into Google sheets as your bullet point.

In this manner, you can use any character, not just a solid-filled dot as the bullet point.

Just make sure to also select the corresponding font in Google sheets.

Another way of implementing indentation, is to mimic it by changing the border of the preceding adjacent column.

In the screenshot above, the right border in column B for rows 2 to 4, has been hidden, giving the illusion that the bullet list in column C is indented.

This makes it easy to adjust the amount of indentation by adjusting the width of column B.

To hide the border of any cell, select the desired cell (or cells), and from the Google sheets tool bar, click on the Borders icon.

This will open a sub-menu with all possible border settings.

Choosing one, will toggle that border’s visibility.

If it was originally visible, it will be hidden, and if it was hidden, it will made visible again.

In our case above, we wish to hide the right border of cell J2 so that whatever we enter in cell K2 will appear indented.

Finally, and yet another way to generate a bullet point, is to create a custom format that can then be applied to cells.

From the Google sheets menu, select Format > Number > Custom number format.

This will open the Custom number formats dialog box. In the input field at the very top, enter the following :
____•_@

In this example, I have used 4 underscore characters at the front instead of spaces since the space character is a non-printing character and would not show up.

Following the spaces is the bullet point itself (you can use here any bullet point character you want), followed by another space, and the ‘at’ symbol (@).

The ‘at’ symbol is a placeholder, and shows where the bullet point and spacing will be positioned in relation to the original contents of the cell.

Once you are happy with your custom format, click the Apply button to create the new format style. This can now be applied to any cell in the sheet.

 

You apply the new, custom format as you would any other.

Select the cell or cells that need to be formatted, and then from the Google sheets menu, go to Format > Number.

Towards the bottom of the second level sub-menu, you should see an option that matches the characters of your format.

In this case, we have • @. Selecting it will apply the format to the selected cells, as seen in cell A1 in the screenshot above, whose original contents were simply List item.

Conclusion

As was stated at the outset, spreadsheet programs were not really designed to do fancy text styling.

Normally, it isn’t a necessity as spreadsheets are more concerned with the organization of data into a tabular layout, and the manipulation of that data.

However, spreadsheet programs do offer some basic formatting, such as font size and color, italicized or bold text, as well as date and currency formatting.

More complex formatting, such as bullet points, is not directly supported, and users must become creative in an effort to find workarounds.

Compared to how a word processor handles bullet lists however, these workarounds are at best, cumbersome and inflexible.

The best option is to create your bullet lists in a word processor such as Google docs or MS Word, and then copy paste the lists into your spreadsheet.

This method is not only fast and easy, but allows bullet lists that contain sub-lists as well.

Constantin Kioulafas
Costas has a wide range of experience in Information Technology covering computer hardware, programming, telecommunications, networking, web services, and general IT support. He's worked in various roles such as PHP programmer and web developer, technical and desktop support, hardware repair, system administration. Costas has excellent background in Microsoft Windows and Office Suite (Excel, Word, Powerpoint, etc), as well as a thorough understanding of Networking and Hardware maintenance.