How to Add Collapsing Plus Signs in Excel Columns

By Aaron Parson

Group Excel columns, either by hand or automatically, to collapse them and make large spreadsheets easier to read.

Grouping columns in Excel 2013 places them into collapsible sections, similar to the way Windows displays folders in the navigation pane. Collapsing a group doesn't erase the data contained within, and formulas that reference cells in the collapsed area work without interruption. Collapsing columns is a purely visual effect meant to help simplify large spreadsheets.


  • Excel can also create collapsible groups of rows using the same method.
  • Grouping works in tables as well as on regular spreadsheet ranges.

Manual Grouping

Step 1

Click and drag on the lettered column headings to select the columns you want to group. If you're going to make subsequent subgroups, start with the largest group of columns.

Step 2

Click Group.

Open the Data tab and click the Group icon in the Outline section to create the first group.

Step 3

Select and create a subgroup.

Select a subset of the columns in the original group and click Group again to create a subgroup. Repeat this step as many times as necessary to create all the parallel subgroups and levels of subgroups you need, up to eight levels.


To create two entirely separate groups, make sure not to include any of the same columns in both groups. If any columns overlap, one group becomes a subgroup of the other.

Step 4

Use the plus and minus signs to expand and collapse groups.

Click a - button to collapse the group of columns indicated by the bracketed area. Collapsed groups display a + button. Click the + to expand a collapsed group.


  • To collapse all groups on the same tier, click one of the numbers to the far left of the + and - signs. For example, clicking 1 collapses all groups, while clicking 2 collapses all second-tier groups.

  • Select an entire group of grouped columns and click the Ungroup icon to delete the group.

  • Select a single column in a group and click Ungroup to remove the column from the group. Removing a column from the middle of a group splits the group into two separate groups.

Auto Outline

Excel also has a method of creating groups that works to find useful groupings automatically. For example, in a spreadsheet of labels, values and totals, Excel will create a group that hides all columns except for the labels and the totals.

Create an automatic outline.

To use this method, select any cell within your data, open the Group drop-down menu and click Auto Outline.


To remove the outline, open the Ungroup drop-down menu and choose Clear Outline.