How to Create an Outline in Excel & Google Sheets

Written by

Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Laura Tsitlidze

Last updated on September 7, 2023

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This tutorial demonstrates how to create an outline in Excel and Google Sheets.

Create an Outline

Outlines in Excel let you group related rows. To create an outline, your data must be organized in your worksheet in a way that works with the grouping functionality.

  1. Consider the following data. Each region has a total line (e.g., Row 9), and Column G totals the three months.

outline data

  1. For this example, group all rows within the London region, excluding the Total London row (i.e., 4:8). Select the rows, and then in the Ribbon, go to Data > Outline > Group > Group…

outline group rows

  1. Excel groups the rows together. A minus sign is added to the new outline bar on the left of the window, in the row directly underneath the grouped rows. The minus button lets you collapse and expand the group.

outline rows grouped

  1. Click on the minus sign to collapse the group. Collapsing the group changes the button to a plus sign and hides the individual rows within the group.

outline collapsed

  1. To show the hidden rows again, click the plus sign (or click the 2 in the outline bar header).

outline expanded

  1. Repeat Step 2 for each other region (here, Paris and New York) until you have completed your outline.

outline rows complete

  1. Now, select the columns you want to group and create a column group. In the Ribbon, go to Data > Outline > Group > Group…

outline columns

  1. Now you have group headers to both the rows and columns. Click the 1 on both the row and column headers to collapse the outline entirely.

outline collapsed rows column

  1. Click the 2 on both the row and column headers to fully expand the outline once again.

outline rows columns expanded

Clear an Outline

To remove a grouping, click within the group, and in the Ribbon, go to Data > Outline > Ungroup > Ungroup…

outline rows ungroup

Remove the entire outline (all grouping) by going to Data > Outline > Ungroup > Clear Outline.

outline rows clear outline

Auto Outline

If your data is set up like the example above, with organized sections and subtotals, you can skip the grouping process and instead apply an auto outline.

In the Ribbon, go to Data > Outline > Group > Auto Outline.

outline auto outline

Auto Outline analyzes your data and automatically groups the rows and columns accordingly.

outline rows columns expanded


If your data is setup appropriately, but without subtotals, use the Subtotals command.

outline data no totals

  1. In the Ribbon, go to Data > Outline > Subtotal.

outline ribbon subtotal

  1. In the Subtotal dialog box, describe your data. You want to sum each month for each region.
    • Tell Excel to add a subtotal At each change in Region.
    • Choose Sum under Use function.
    • Tick the January, February, and March columns under Add subtotal to. (Region and Expense Description aren’t numeric, so don’t use them.)

outline subtotal select

  1. Click OK. This totals each column by region and groups the subtotaled rows together, creating an auto outline.

outline subtotaled

Outlines in Google Sheets

Creating an outline in Google Sheets is similar.

  1. Select the rows to group, and then in the Menu, go to View > Group > Group rows x y where x and y are the first and last rows selected.

outline gs rows group

The main difference between Excel and Google Sheets outlines is that the grouping +/ signs are above the grouped rows in Google Sheets. (Excel adds the buttons below the rows.)

outline gs rows grouped

  1. Repeat Step 1 for each group.

outline gs rows columns expanded

Now you can click the minus signs to collapse groups.

outline gs outline collapsed

Or click the plus signs to expand them.

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