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If you have data in a spreadsheet that you want to review quickly, having differences highlighted automatically can save you time. You might not realize it, but Microsoft Excel has a built-in feature for easily displaying row differences.

Once you locate the differing data, you can also apply formatting to keep those differences highlighted. Then, get to work on updating, correcting, or analyzing the data in your spreadsheet.

Find Row Differences in Excel

The first step in locating differences in your data is to select the cells. Drag your cursor through a group of cells or adjacent rows.

Next, head to the Home tab and the Editing section of the ribbon. Click “Find & Select” and pick “Go To Special” in the drop-down list.

In the window that pops open, choose “Row Differences” and click “OK.”

The window will automatically close, and you’ll see the differences in your rows highlighted.

Row Differences in Excel

The Active Cell and Row Differences

It’s essential to know that the differences highlighted are based on the active cell. As you can see in the screenshot below, the active cell is A1 because it’s white. This is the first cell that we selected when we dragged through the range. The same rule applies if you select rows instead of a cell range.

Active cell in range of selected cells

This means that the data in the subsequent rows that you see highlighted differs from that active cell’s column. In the screenshot below, you can see that cells B4 and C4 are highlighted because they both differ from A4.

Two row differences in Excel

But in the following screenshot, only cell B5 is highlighted. This is because the data in C5 matches that in A5.

One row difference in Excel

If you want to change the active cell, you can press Enter on Windows or Return on Mac with the Tab key to move to the cell that you want to make active. You can also start selecting the cell range with a different cell to make that one active. Just keep in mind that this affects the differences that display.

The key thing to remember here is that row differences are based on the active cell.

Note: In the screenshots above, cell C3 became the active cell after applying row differences. You can still see the highlight indicator as a border.

Highlight Row Differences in Excel

After you use the Go To Special feature above and see your row differences highlighted, you can stay on the Home tab and use a formatting option in the ribbon.

The Font section on the Home tab gives you options to change the text to bold, italics, or underline as well as adjust the font style, size, and color. Alternatively or in addition, you can select a fill color for the cells or apply a border.

Font formatting section in ribbon

Once you apply your desired formatting to the cells, you can now travel about the sheet. The formatting that you manually applied will stick.

Fill formatted row differences

There are so many uses for Microsoft Excel that we end up with varieties of ways to accomplish tasks within it. So, if you’re interested in the opposite of differences and want to catch duplicate data or simply remove duplicate rows in Excel, those are also easy tricks to learn.

Profile Photo for Sandy Writtenhouse Sandy Writtenhouse
With her B.S. in Information Technology, Sandy worked for many years in the IT industry as a Project Manager, Department Manager, and PMO Lead. She learned how technology can enrich both professional and personal lives by using the right tools. And, she has shared those suggestions and how-tos on many websites over time. With thousands of articles under her belt, Sandy strives to help others use technology to their advantage.
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