What is an Active Cell?

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  • Written By: H. Bliss
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 09 November 2019
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An active cell is a cell in a computer spreadsheet that is selected for manipulation. It is identified by a thicker outline on the cell that was last selected by a cursor. Within spreadsheet programs like Microsoft Excel® and® Calc, cells hold the data that makes up the spreadsheet. When selected as an active cell, a cell can be manipulated and changed in a variety of ways.

Versatile segments of information, cells can be altered in many ways to best fit the purpose of the spreadsheet. For appearance purposes, spreadsheets can be merged, colored, outlined, or resized. Merging cells means that the line between them disappears and the multiple cells act as one single cell. Merging cells can be beneficial for adding a title or text section to a spreadsheet or for highlighting a cell with important or final information.

A cell is the name for one of the individual boxes in a spreadsheet. To make it active, a user selects the cell with the mouse cursor. Cells can be resized and moved and individual cells, rows of cells, or columns of cells can be added to a spreadsheet if more space is needed.


Within spreadsheets, cells can be programmed to handle different types of data, including specific types of data formatting or formulas which make automatic calculations from data entered on the spreadsheet. Data formatting of an active cell can be used to tell the cell to handle data as if it were a certain type of data, like currency, percentages, fractions, and dates. This function is especially useful when formatting a spreadsheet to create a chart.

Adding color to an active cell can help distinguish it from other cells on the spreadsheet. This can help a special piece of information stand out when presenting the spreadsheet or sending it to other people who only need specific information on the spreadsheet. By highlighting special information with color, a spreadsheet presenter can ensure that important information is easily accessible to anyone reading the spreadsheet.

Including a spreadsheet within a document can provide a platform for explaining the spreadsheet that can make it easier for readers to understand. Many spreadsheet programs allow the user to select an active cell or groups or active cells and paste them into other programs, like word processors. This way, the active part of the spreadsheet can be included within a document that has text pertaining to the spreadsheet.


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