Learn the Nuances of AutoFill

BY STANLEY ZAROWIN

Q. One of the really neat things about Excel is the AutoFill feature—except when the first number is 1. Whenever I try it starting with 1, all I get is a bunch of 1s when what I want is a row of cells with 1, 2, 3, 4 and so on. What am I doing wrong, or more correctly, what is Excel doing wrong?
A. Admittedly, there are nuances to the AutoFill function that can prove quite frustrating. It’s true that if you simply grab the fill handle (the little square that appears in the lower right corner of a cell when you put your cursor in that spot) and move it either down a column or across a row to continue a series (1,2, 3, 4 or Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday), you’re not always sure whether you’ll get the series or just 1, 1, 1, 1, or Monday, Monday, Monday. The trick for getting a series rather than a line of 1s is to hold down the Ctrl key while dragging the fill handle.

Another tip to achieve more control of AutoFill : As you start dragging the fill handle, right-click on it to generate a drop-down menu (see screenshot at right) that lets you select what you want done.

It can be a little tricky unless you’re handy with a mouse, but with a little practice you can gain control of the function and save lots of time.

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