How To Build A Pivot Table In Excel

Are you tired of sifting through endless rows and columns of data in Excel, trying to make sense of it all? Do you wish there was an easier way to analyze and summarize your data in a way that makes sense? Look no further than Pivot Tables!

Pivot tables help you see the “big picture” by summarizing, analyzing, and presenting the data meaningfully and interactively. For example, if you had a large sales data set, you can quickly determine how the products sold each quarter.

In this article, I’ll show you how to build a Pivot Table in Excel. With just a few clicks, you can transform your messy data into a clear, concise summary that will make you an Excel wizard!

For Mac users, check out this version – Pivot Tables for Excel Mac.

Building A Pivot Table

Step 1 – How To Insert A Pivot Table

First, you need to highlight the source data for a pivot table. In the “Insert” ribbon, click the Pivot Table drop-down and select the PivotTable option.

Hint – The first row must use unique headings for each column.  Additionally, do not include any blank rows or columns.

Pivot Table ribbon

Step 2 – Select The Data Source For The Pivot Table

Excel will now display a pivot table wizard; the first section will already be populated with your selected data range. You can now specify the pivot table target location, either creating the pivot table on a new worksheet or at a target cell on the current worksheet.

Create PivotTable screen

Step 3 – Setting Up Your Pivot Table

Once created, you will be presented with an easy-to-use pivot table interface. To configure the report, you only need to click and drag and drop the “pivot fields” into the “pivot table panel.

From here, you are free to change the fields using different combinations to display the data in a useful way to users.

Drag and drop pivot fields v2

Based on the field panel (in the PivotTable Field List) in the below diagram, the outcome is the following pivot report. Note that based on our selections above:

  • The ‘Category’ field is down the columns
  • The ‘Person’ field is across the rows
  • The ‘Sales’ are distributed across the relevant fields
Filled in pivot table fields

As you can see, it summarizes the data in a presentable format that allows you to understand the data. This is especially useful when you have very large datasets and you’re trying to make something meaningful of it.

Check out this post to see more on why pivot tables are useful.

Maintenance and Updates for Pivot Tables

As with any data analysis, pivot tables require occasional tweaks and updates to stay current with the underlying data. Here’s how to manage and update your pivot tables:

  • Refreshing Data: Pivot tables won’t automatically update if your underlying dataset changes. To refresh your pivot table with the new data, right-click anywhere in the pivot table and select ‘Refresh.’ Alternatively, you can use the ‘Refresh‘ button in the ‘Analyze‘ tab. If you have multiple Pivot Tables in a workbook, see how to refresh all Pivot Tables in a workbook.
  • Expanding the Data Range: If you’ve added more data to your original dataset (like new rows or columns), you must adjust the data range for the pivot table. Click on the pivot table, go to the ‘Analyze‘ tab, and choose ‘Change Data Source‘. From there, select the updated data range.
  • Adjusting Calculations: If you want to modify the type of calculation used (e.g., from a sum to an average), click on the dropdown arrow next to the relevant field in the ‘Values‘ area and select ‘Value Field Settings.’
  • Grouping Data: Over time, you might want to group specific data in your pivot table, like dates into months. Right-click the data you want to group, and choose the ‘Group‘ option.

Always make a habit of refreshing your pivot table after making changes to the original dataset. Also, keep an eye on the data range of your pivot table, especially if rows or columns are frequently added to the dataset.

Common Issues With Pivot Tables

While pivot tables are a powerful tool in Excel, they can sometimes be a bit finicky, especially if you’re new to them. Here are some common mistakes users often encounter and ways to remedy them:

  • Non-Unique Column Headers: Pivot tables require each column in your data range to have a unique header. If two columns have the same header, Excel will produce an error. Ensure that each column is distinctly named.
  • Blank Rows or Columns: Including blank rows or columns within your data range can result in erroneous calculations or missing data in your pivot table. It’s essential to thoroughly check and clean your dataset before creating a pivot table. Try filling in blank cells with the above value.
  • Mixing Data Types: If a column contains mixed data types (e.g., numbers and text in the same column), the pivot table may not sort or calculate the data correctly. Ensure that all data within a specific column is consistent regarding its data type.
  • Incomplete Data: Pivot tables are as good as the data they’re based on. Garbage in, garbage out! Ensure no missing values exist in essential fields, as they can distort summaries and calculations.

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