Microsoft Excel: Excel in handcuffs

By J. Carlton Collins, CPA

Q: A client sent me the attached odd spreadsheet (pictured below and available at Supposedly it's an Excel workbook, but there are no column or row references, and the cursor won't move past the last column or row. Can you take a look at this and tell me what has been done, or what this is?


After examining your attached spreadsheet, I can confirm this is indeed an Excel 2013 workbook in which the unused columns and rows have been hidden and the headings display has been turned off. I receive workbooks like this occasionally; evidently some Excel users format their workbooks in this manner because:

  • They like this clean, simpler look and feel.
  • They like to hide columns and rows that contain calculations so users will be less tempted to alter those calculations.
  • They apparently believe this format compels the reader to focus on the workbook's report area—and not the underlying assumptions and calculations.

I'm not a fan of this type of modification because it handcuffs the user; I'd rather receive an Excel workbook that I can immediately edit or alter, if necessary. To restore the workbook's full functionality, from the View tab's Show group, check the Headings option to restore the workbook's row and column headings, as pictured below.


Next, select the entire workbook area by clicking the gray (or green) triangle icon located in the upper left corner of the row and column headings area (as circled on the previous page), and then from the Home tab's Cells group, select Format, Hide & Unhide, Unhide Columns, as pictured below.

Repeat this last step again, this time selecting the Unhide Rows option. Thereafter, your workbook will display and behave like a normal Excel workbook.


About the author

J. Carlton Collins ( is a technology consultant, a CPE instructor, and a JofA contributing editor.

Note: Instructions for Microsoft Office in “Technology Q&A” refer to the 2007 through 2016 versions, unless otherwise specified.

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