How to Create and Use Custom Sort Orders in Excel

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Mastering Excel Custom Sort: A Comprehensive Guide

Sorting data in Excel is a common task for many professionals, but sometimes the default sorting options don’t meet our complex requirements. Excel’s custom sort feature extends the functionality, allowing users to organize data in a more personalized manner. In this guide, we’ll delve into how to utilize Excel’s custom sort feature to tailor the data sorting process to your specific needs.

Understanding Custom Sort

Before we dive into the steps for applying a custom sort, it’s essential to grasp what it entails. Custom sort in Excel allows you to define your own sorting rules based on multiple criteria, including text length, cell color, font color, or even by a custom list you’ve created. It’s a powerful tool to manipulate the data view to reflect the hierarchies and categorizations that matter most to your analysis.

Setting Up Your Data for Custom Sorting

Before applying a custom sort, ensure that your data is laid out properly to avoid any potential issues. Here are some tips to prepare your data:

  • Make sure each column has a clear header.
  • Check that there are no merged cells in the range you intend to sort.
  • Ensure there are no blank rows or columns within the data range.
  • It is recommended to convert your data to a table using the ‘Format as Table’ feature for better sort and filter options.

Steps to Perform a Custom Sort in Excel

  1. Select any cell within the dataset you want to sort.
  2. Go to the ‘Data’ tab on the Excel ribbon.
  3. Click on ‘Sort’ to open the Sort dialog box.
  4. If needed, expand the dialog by clicking on ‘More Options’.
  5. Under ‘Column’, select the first attribute you want to sort by from the drop-down menu.
  6. Under ‘Sort On’, choose whether you want to sort by cell values, cell color, font color, or cell icon.
  7. Under ‘Order’, pick the desired sorting order and, if sorting by cell values, specify the custom list when applicable.
  8. To add another sorting level, click ‘Add Level’ and repeat the steps for the additional criteria.
  9. Once all the levels are added, click ‘OK’ to sort your data.

Sorting your data with custom criteria can significantly impact your data analysis outcomes.

Creating a Custom List for Sorting

For scenarios where you have a specific sequence that isn’t alphabetically or numerically ordered, you can create a custom list in Excel. For example, you can define a custom sort order for days of the week to sort them by starting from Monday instead of the default alphabetical sorting.

  1. Go to ‘File’ > ‘Options’ > ‘Advanced’.
  2. Scroll down to the ‘General’ section, and click on ‘Edit Custom Lists’.
  3. In the Custom Lists dialog, you can either import a list from the cells in your worksheet or type it manually in the ‘List entries’ box.
  4. Once the list is created, click ‘Add’, followed by ‘OK’ to save the list.

You can then choose this custom list in the ‘Order’ field when performing a custom sort, as outlined in the steps above.

Advanced Custom Sort Options

Beyond simple value sorting, Excel allows you to sort using more advanced features like cell color or conditional formatting icons. For instance, if you’re using color-coding to highlight different statuses in your data, you can sort by cell color to group similarly-colored cells together.


Can I perform a custom sort on multiple columns?
Yes, you can add multiple levels in the custom sort dialog box to sort by more than one column, defining the priority for each column.

What happens if I sort a column without headers?
Excel might sort the first row of your data if it doesn’t detect a header row. Always ensure headers are present and marked accordingly before sorting.

How do I handle sorting mixed data types?
If your column contains mixed data types (e.g., numbers and text), Excel will sort numbers separately from text entries. Verify data consistency for accurate sorting.

Remember, Excel’s versatility in custom sorting empowers you to view your data precisely as needed for efficient analysis. Explore these features to enhance your Excel proficiency.

As Tracy, an expert in tech issues and how-to articles, I hope this article has provided you with the detailed steps and insights to use Excel custom sort effectively. If you encounter any issues or have more intricate sorting needs, please don’t hesitate to explore further assistance or advanced Excel training.