How to Highlight Differences in Two Excel Columns: A Step-by-Step Guide

Highlighting Differences in Two Excel Columns

You can easily spot the differences between two columns in Excel using a few basic steps. You’ll use conditional formatting to make cells stand out if their values differ. This method helps quickly identify mismatches without manually comparing each cell. Let’s dive in!

Step-by-Step Tutorial on Highlighting Differences in Two Excel Columns

We’ll use Conditional Formatting to highlight cells in two columns that don’t match. Follow these steps to get the job done:

Step 1: Open your Excel spreadsheet

First, open the Excel file containing the columns you want to compare.

Make sure your columns have data and are side by side to make the process simpler.

Step 2: Select the first data column

Click on the header of the first column you wish to compare to highlight the entire column.

It’s crucial to select the whole column as this ensures that no cell is left unchecked.

Step 3: Go to the ‘Home’ tab

Navigate to the ‘Home’ tab at the top of Excel.

This tab contains all the basic functions and tools you’ll need for this task.

Step 4: Click ‘Conditional Formatting’

In the ‘Home’ tab, find and click ‘Conditional Formatting’ in the Styles group.

Conditional Formatting allows you to apply different formatting options based on cell values.

Step 5: Select ‘New Rule’

From the dropdown menu, select ‘New Rule’ to create a new formatting rule.

Creating a new rule lets you customize exactly how you want the differences highlighted.

Step 6: Choose ‘Use a formula to determine which cells to format’

In the New Formatting Rule dialog box, select ‘Use a formula to determine which cells to format’.

This option allows you to create a formula that compares values in the two columns.

Step 7: Enter the comparison formula

Enter the formula =A1B1 assuming A and B are your columns to compare.

This formula checks if the value in column A is different from the value in column B.

Step 8: Set the formatting style

Click ‘Format’ and choose a format, like a fill color, to highlight the differences.

Choose a color that stands out to make the differences easily noticeable.

Step 9: Apply the rule

Click ‘OK’ to apply the formatting rule, and then ‘OK’ again to close the dialog box.

You should now see the differences highlighted in your chosen format.

Once you’ve completed these steps, Excel will automatically highlight the cells in the first column that are different from the second column. Now, let’s talk about some useful tips to make this task even easier.

Tips for Highlighting Differences in Two Excel Columns

  • Use Absolute References: If you’re comparing specific cells and not entire columns, you might need to use absolute references (like $A$1).
  • Check for Extra Spaces: Sometimes differences are caused by extra spaces. Use the TRIM function to remove them.
  • Match Case Sensitivity: If case sensitivity matters, ensure your formula accounts for it.
  • Expand Your Comparison: You can adjust the formula to compare more complex data, like ranges or specific criteria.
  • Explore Other Formatting Options: Besides fill color, try font color changes, bold text, or borders to make differences stand out.

Frequently Asked Questions

What if my columns are not side-by-side?

You can still use the formula by adjusting the cell references accordingly.

Can I compare more than two columns?

Yes, you can extend the formula to include additional columns by using logical operators like AND or OR.

How do I remove the conditional formatting?

Go to ‘Conditional Formatting’ > ‘Manage Rules’, and delete the rule you created.

Can I use this method for text data?

Absolutely! The formula =A1B1 works perfectly for both text and numerical data.

What if my data changes frequently?

Conditional formatting updates automatically, so your highlights will adjust with any changes.


  1. Open your Excel spreadsheet.
  2. Select the first data column.
  3. Go to the ‘Home’ tab.
  4. Click ‘Conditional Formatting’.
  5. Select ‘New Rule’.
  6. Choose ‘Use a formula to determine which cells to format’.
  7. Enter the comparison formula.
  8. Set the formatting style.
  9. Apply the rule.


Highlighting differences in two Excel columns can save you a ton of time and effort. By using Conditional Formatting, you can quickly identify mismatches without manually scanning through the data.

This method isn’t just limited to numbers; it works great for text and other data types too. Remember, Excel is packed with features that can make your data management tasks much easier.

So, if you haven’t already tried it, now’s the time. Dive into your spreadsheet, follow these steps, and watch how efficiently you can spot differences. You’ll soon wonder how you ever managed without it. Happy Excel-ing!

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