Using the Paste Special command

You've got a good feel for the Excel interface, and have gotten some practice using familiar functions like Copy and Paste to manipulate, move, and duplicate data on your spreadsheets. But if you've been using these features for a while, you may have bumped into a common problem that you can't quite figure out how to solve: when copying and pasting cells, everything about the cell is copied and pasted — not just the value of the cell, but also its format. And, if you copy and paste a cell that contains a formula, the formula itself will be duplicated rather than the value that formula outputs. This can often be helpful, but sometimes it doesn't produce the intended result due to relative cell references. Sometimes, you just want to copy and paste the values of cells without bringing along anything else!

That's where the Paste Special command comes in. Once you've copied the contents of a cell or range of cells, it's a quick and easy way to paste only the parts of that cell that you care about — whether that means values, formulas, formats.

Let's take a look at Paste Special to get a feel for how we can use it in practice.

Pasting values

Let's say we've got a spreadsheet of calculations created for our manager, who has asked for a list of SnackWorld sales numbers by month:

SnackWorld sales by month

We've used a series of complicated formulas to calculate these values based off of an external data table, and now we want to send our output to our manager. But, we don't want to send those complicated formulas — our manager just wants to see our final numbers, not unnecessary information on how we got there.

To solve this problem, we'll copy the entire range, then paste it as values in the same place from which we copied it. Let's start by copying our range:

Copying the range

Then, we'll head to the Paste Special menu on the Home section of the Ribbon.

Paste Special

When we hit the Paste Special option, a new dialogue appears on which we can tell Excel exactly what about our source data we want to paste. In this case, we'll choose the "Values" option, because we don't want to carry over any formulas — just the values that those formulas output.

Paste Special dialogue

When we press OK, the Paste Special is completed. Note that when we scroll over the cells in our worksheet, they no longer contain formulas — just the raw numerical outputs that we pasted in over our old data:

Pasted values

Pasting As Values is an extremely common practice in the business world. Generally, analysts use Paste As Values on critical data before sending it off to managers for review. This helps ensure that a) the data sent does not unintentionally change if the recipient accidentally modifies source data; and b) the recipient of the spreadsheet doesn't get distracted by complicated formulas, and instead pays attention to the numbers provided.

Pasting formats

Here's another example of when Paste Special can come in handy. In the following spreadsheet, we've formatted the first column of a data table with a beautiful header row format. But, the remaining columns still look pretty primitive:

Formatted header row

Let's copy that first header cell, select the remainder of the header row, and then head to the Paste Special menu:

Copying the header

On this menu, we'll select Formats, so that only the format of the copied cell is pasted — not its value:

Pasting formats

Like magic, the rest of our header row is updated with the beautiful formatting of our first cell. And the values of our headers remain unchanged!

Pasted format result

Transposing rows and columns

Here's one more handy Paste Special trick: we can use this feature to transpose rows and columns quickly and easily. Check it out: we entered the following column of data vertically, but after thinking a bit more about the layout of our spreadsheet, we've decided that it'd be better oriented horizontally:

Row oriented vertically

Rather than re-typing the entire column into one row, we can simply copy it and head to the Paste Special menu:

Paste Special menu with transpose selected

There, we'll check the Transpose box, which will switch columns and rows in our data:

Selecting Transpose

We'll press OK and check out our new, pasted data (be sure not to paste over the old data range, or the Transpose feature won't work!). It's now oriented horizontally rather than vertically — with minimal effort invested on our part!

Transposed data

We use Transpose when we want to re-orient and re-design spreadsheets without having to resort to manual data re-entry. It's an incredibly handy feature that invariably comes up once in a while when designing spreadsheets — so be sure to keep it in the back of your pocket!

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