Get the Red Out of Negative Spreadsheet Numbers


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Q. All of my spreadsheets display negative numbers in red rather than preceded by a negative sign. I don’t mind the red on the screen, but when I print a worksheet, those negative numbers come out a light gray because I use a black-and-white laser printer. I know I can format a cell to appear with the negative sign rather than in red or I can go to Page Setup (under the File menu) and change to black-and-white printing, but is there a way to change the default so I won’t have to make these changes every time?

A. There certainly is. Before showing you how, let’s take a moment to demonstrate how to format an individual cell or a group of selected cells to display a negative number in red or with a minus sign.

With the target cell(s) highlighted, click on Format, Cells (or right-click, Format Cells ). That produces the Format Cells screen (see right).

Notice your options: You can select the number with a minus sign, in red, in parentheses, or in parentheses in red.

If you want to extend the format change to default to the style of your choice, click on Format, Style . That brings up the Style screen (see below).

To change the appearance of a number, click on Modify , which brings up the same Format Cells screen as before—only now, any change you make will become a default style. Notice the Style name menu at the top of the screen. Clicking on the down-pointing arrow displays all your existing style categories. The first name in the list is Normal . If you want the change to be evoked in the Normal style (that’s Excel’s opening default style) make the changes there. Or you can create a unique style and give it a unique name—say, My Favorite.

Also, notice that you can combine several elements to a style by clicking on Add . Or, if you already have a named style, you can merge this style choice into it by clicking on Merge .

Now that you know how to format negative numbers, let’s hope you don’t have many of them in your future accounting reports.


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