Formatting elements: Alignment (About cell merging)

Another extremely commonly used option for adjusting the flow of text is merging cells. This lets you tell a spreadsheet to treat two or more adjacent cells as a single cell.

Text in the merged cells will flow across all of them the same way it would flow across a single one. As shown in the image to the right, you can merge two or more cells horizontally or vertically or both at once, but it always has to be a rectangle of cells. You can’t merge two cells from column B with one from column C.

There are really two main reasons to merge cells. One is to give yourself more room, and the other is to create an sense of unity and/or remove the necessity for duplication.

Unity/Removing duplication. It’s extremely common to use merging when putting a single header over multiple columns, such as in the example below. It’s pretty easy to see that each year belongs to two columns — without merging you’d either have to pick a column to put the year in, or else put it in both.

You probably noticed that in addition to merging the cells, I also center-aligned the headers (the years). This is such a common thing to do that there’s often a one-button option for “merge and center”, which is to say: treat the selected cells as a single cell (merge) and center-align the text in it (center).

Making room. If I need a lot of space for something, especially if there are other things on the page that might be affected if I make the column wider or the row talker, I’ll use merging. For example, in my debt payoff spreadsheet I had instructions to convey. Without text wrapping the instructions would have gone off the edge of the screen and been invisible. With text wrapping they’d all be visible, but the layout of the tables that happened share rows with the instructions would have been distorted due to the increased height of the wrapped text. So I also merged the cells in the instructions, and the rows in the table stayed at their default height.