At the time of this posting (February 2019) Microsoft introduced a new Excel feature called Threaded Comments.  This allows users to reply to other’s comments and keep better track of the conversation.

The original comments feature in Excel has been retained, but due to such an extreme similarity of features (original Comments versus Threaded Comments), the original Comments are now referred to as Notes and the new Threaded Comments are referred to as Comments.

This post will be focusing on the original form of comments, now called Notes.

Shortcut Keys

Worksheet cells with embedded comments are easy to recognize by their red triangle in the upper right of a cell.

To insert a comment using a keyboard shortcut, select the appropriate cell and press Shift-F2.

An easy way to remember this keyboard shortcut; the F2 key edits the cells content, whereas Shift-F2 edits the cells comment.

If you would rather insert a comment via the ribbon, click Review (tab) -> Comments (group) -> New Comment.

When dealing with a workbook that contains many comments, perhaps spread across great distances, the Next and Previous buttons in the Comments group allow for speedy navigation from one comment to another.

You can also edit a comment by pressing Edit Comment (or right-clicking on a cell and selecting Edit Comment) as well a delete a comment by selecting Delete (or right-clicking on a cell and selecting Delete Comment.)

Quickly show all Comments

If you have many comments on a sheet, and you don’t wish to select each cell individually to read all the comments, you can force the display of all comments by selecting Review (tab) -> Comments (group) -> Show Comments.  This button acts as a toggle , so clicking the button  again will hide all the sheet comments.

If you want to display the comment for a single cell, select the cell and press the Show/Hide Comment button on the ribbon.

Printing Comments

There are two methods for printing the comments in a worksheet.

Method 1 – On Sheet Printing

If you wish to print the comment next to the cell containing the comment, select the Page Layout tab and click on any of the Dialog Box Launcher buttons in the lower right of any supported button group.  This will launch the Page Setup dialog box.

Since the ribbon has limited screen real estate, these buttons take you to the full feature lists in the applicable category.

Select the Sheet tab then select the dropdown list for the Comments feature.  Click the option labeled “As displayed on sheet (legacy)”.  Keep in mind, the comments will only be printed if they are rendered visible on the sheet by one of the previously discussed methods.

Method 2 – End of Sheet Printing

If we return to the Page Setup dialog box, click the dropdown for the Comments feature and select “At end of sheet”.

This will generate an extra sheet at the end of your printout listing all the comments, comment authors and cell locations.

Copy/Paste Comments

If you have a comment in a cell and wish to apply the same comment to another or several other cells, perform the following steps:

  1. Select the cell with the original comment
  2. Click Copy on the Home tab or use the CTRL-C keyboard shortcut
  3. Select the destination cell(s)
  4. On the Home tab, select the lower part of the Paste button and select Paste Special
  5. In the Paste Special dialog box, select Comments and click OK

Customize Comment Background

Sadly, most users of comments don’t drift beyond the default appearance of a comment.

For the more adventurous of us, we can right-click on a comment border and select Format Comment or use the CTRL-1 keyboard shortcut.

Aside from the font, font size, font color customizations, we can also select the Colors and Lines tab of the Format Comment dialog box to access many creative cosmetic features.

An interesting way to get visually creative comments is to add a background image to the comment.  We will achieve this by selecting and capturing as a file an icon from the icon library.  We will then apply it as a background for our comment box.

Unfortunately, Excel will allow us to perform all but one of the steps necessary to achieve this result.  Because of this Excel limitation, we will utilize PowerPoint to create and capture the background image.

The steps to achieve this are as follows:

  1. Launch PowerPoint and create a new blank presentation with a blank slide.
  2. Insert an icon by selecting Insert (tab) -> Illustrations (group) -> Icons.
  3. From the icon library, select the icon(s) that suit your needs. For this tutorial, we will be using the “tablet” icon from the “Technology and electronics” category and the “checklist” icon from the “Business” category.  Select the icons and click Insert.
  4. Move the icons to allow a fair amount of distance between them.
  5. Resize the icons. Making them larger will allow for easier modifications.
  6. The icons may have unnecessary whitespace surrounding the icon. Select the icon and click Graphic Tools – Format (tab) -> Size (group) -> Crop and remove the extra whitespace from the icons.
  7. From the Graphic Styles button group, customize the fill color, outline color, and any other cosmetic customizations you wish. Keep in mind, the image will be reduced in size, so the simpler you maintain the look of the icon, the better.
  8. Right-click the icon and select Save as Picture. Select the PNG format and save the image to a location and with a filename of your choosing.
  9. Return to Excel, select the border edge of a comment and press CTRL-1.
  10. On the Colors and Lines tab, in the Fill category, select the Color dropdown and click Fill Effects.
  11. Select the Picture tab and click Select Picture.
  12. Browse to your newly created picture’s folder and select the image.
  13. Check the box titled Lock Picture Aspect Ratio.
  14. In the Line category, set the line color to No Line.
  15. Click OK to accept all settings.
  16. The image may be slightly cropped. Using the resize handles, adjust the comment border until you can thee the image in its entirety.
  17. To prevent future resize operations from re-cropping the image, press CTRL-1 to reopen the Format Comment dialog box. Select the Size tab and place a check in the Lock Aspect Ratio option and click OK.
  18. Because the text is slightly obscured by the thick border of the image, press CTRL-1 to return to the Format Comment dialog box. On the Margins tab, set the margins for all for sides to 25”.

Observe the final version of the custom comment.

If you wish to apply this comment box style to other cells without having to perform all the previous steps, use the “Select-Copy-Paste Comments” technique discussed earlier.

Using Symbols to Denote Comments

Remember the checkbox icon we saved earlier?  We can use that image in place of an actual text-based comment to indicate an established meaning.

Repeating the previous steps, but for the checklist image, add the image to a cell’s comment but remove all the text.

We could convey to our team, “If you see the checkbox comment, add that item to the to-do list.”

These are a few ways to create comments that will help your spreadsheet stand out and get the attention they deserve.

Leila Gharani

I'm a 6x Microsoft MVP with over 15 years of experience implementing and professionals on Management Information Systems of different sizes and nature.

My background is Masters in Economics, Economist, Consultant, Oracle HFM Accounting Systems Expert, SAP BW Project Manager. My passion is teaching, experimenting and sharing. I am also addicted to learning and enjoy taking online courses on a variety of topics.