Excel Tutorial: How To Create A Custom Sort List In Excel


Excel is a powerful tool for organizing and analyzing data, and one way to make this process more efficient is by creating a custom sort list. A custom sort list in Excel allows you to specify the order in which data should be sorted, based on your specific criteria. This can be extremely important when working with non-numeric data, such as names or categories, that may not sort correctly using the standard options. By creating a custom sort list, you can ensure that your data is organized in the way that makes the most sense for your analysis.

Key Takeaways

  • Custom sort lists in Excel allow for specific criteria-based data sorting, especially useful for non-numeric data.
  • Creating a custom sort list is important for efficient organization and analysis of data in Excel.
  • Understanding the benefits and scenarios where a custom sort list would be useful is crucial for effective data management.
  • Step-by-step guides and tips for organizing, managing, and implementing custom sort lists are essential for efficient data sorting.
  • Regularly updating and refining custom sort lists is a best practice for long-term usability and efficient data organization.

Understanding Custom Sort Lists

A. Define what a custom sort list is in Excel

A custom sort list in Excel is a feature that allows users to create a specific order in which data should be sorted. This custom order can be based on any criteria, such as alphabetical, numerical, or even based on specific categories.

B. Explain the benefits of using a custom sort list for data management

  • Custom sort lists allow for more efficient and accurate sorting of data, especially in scenarios where the default sorting options may not apply.
  • They provide a way to organize and manage data according to specific requirements, making it easier to analyze and work with large datasets.
  • Custom sort lists can improve productivity by saving time and effort in manually rearranging data to fit a desired order.

C. Provide examples of scenarios where a custom sort list would be useful

  • Organizing products or services: In a sales database, a custom sort list can be used to arrange products or services in the order of priority, popularity, or specific categories.
  • Sorting employee names: When managing a list of employees, a custom sort list can be applied to sort their names by departments, roles, or seniority.
  • Categorizing survey responses: For survey data, a custom sort list can arrange responses based on specific criteria, such as satisfaction levels, preferences, or demographics.

Creating a Custom Sort List

Excel allows users to create a custom sort list to organize and sort data according to specific criteria. Follow the step-by-step guide below to create a custom sort list in Excel.

Step-by-Step Guide on How to Create a Custom Sort List in Excel

  • Select the Data: Open the Excel spreadsheet and select the column that you want to create a custom sort list for.
  • Open the Sort Dialog Box: Go to the Data tab, click on the "Sort" button to open the Sort dialog box.
  • Select Custom Sort: In the Sort dialog box, select "Custom List" from the "Order" dropdown menu.
  • Enter the Custom Sort List: In the Custom Lists dialog box, enter the items in the custom sort list in the "List entries" box, one item per line.
  • Click OK: Once you have entered the custom sort list, click "Add" and then "OK" to save the custom sort list.

Tips on Organizing the Custom Sort List for Effective Data Sorting

Organizing the custom sort list is essential for efficient data sorting in Excel. Consider the following tips for effective organization:

  • Use Descriptive Labels: Use clear and descriptive labels for each item in the custom sort list to ensure easy identification.
  • Arrange Items in Logical Order: Arrange the items in the custom sort list in a logical order that makes sense for your data sorting needs.
  • Avoid Duplication: Make sure there are no duplicate entries in the custom sort list to prevent any confusion during sorting.

How to Manage and Update the Custom Sort List as Needed

As your data sorting requirements evolve, you may need to manage and update the custom sort list in Excel. Here's how you can do it:

  • Edit the Custom Sort List: To edit the custom sort list, go to the Excel options, select "Advanced," and then click on "Edit Custom Lists" to make changes to the existing custom sort list.
  • Delete a Custom Sort List: If you no longer need a custom sort list, you can delete it from the Custom Lists dialog box in the Excel options.
  • Add New Items: To add new items to the custom sort list, simply open the Custom Lists dialog box and input the new items in the "List entries" box.

Implementing the Custom Sort List

When working with large sets of data in Excel, it can be challenging to manually sort through and organize the information. This is where the custom sort list feature comes in handy, allowing users to create a personalized list for sorting data efficiently.

Demonstrate how to apply the custom sort list to sort data in Excel

To apply a custom sort list in Excel, start by selecting the data range that you want to sort. Then, navigate to the "Data" tab and click on the "Sort" button. In the Sort dialog box, select the "Custom List" option from the "Order" dropdown menu. From there, you can either choose an existing custom list or create a new one by entering the values in the list manually. Once the custom list is selected, click "OK" to sort the data according to the custom list order.

Highlight the flexibility and efficiency of using a custom sort list for various data sets

The custom sort list feature offers great flexibility in sorting various types of data sets. Whether it's sorting a list of names, months, or any other specific order, the custom sort list can streamline the process and save time. This feature is particularly useful for recurring tasks where the same custom sort order is applied to different data sets.

Address potential challenges and troubleshooting tips for implementing a custom sort list

While the custom sort list feature is a powerful tool, it's important to be aware of potential challenges that may arise when implementing it. One common issue is the accidental omission or duplication of values in the custom list, which can lead to unexpected sorting results. To avoid this, double-check the custom list values before applying the sort. Additionally, if the custom sort list is not producing the desired sorting outcome, make sure to verify that the data range is selected correctly and that the custom list is applied accurately.

Advanced Custom Sort List Features

When it comes to sorting data in Excel, the custom sort list feature offers more advanced options for organizing your information. Let's explore some of the additional features and options available for custom sort lists in Excel.

Customizing the Sort Order

  • Custom Sort Order: In addition to the default ascending or descending sort order, you can create a custom sort order based on your specific requirements. This feature allows you to prioritize certain elements in the sort order, giving you more control over how your data is organized.
  • Sort by Multiple Levels: Excel also allows you to sort data based on multiple levels, which is useful for complex datasets. You can specify primary and secondary sort fields to create a more refined and customized sorting process.

Adding New Elements to the Custom Sort List

  • Managing Custom Lists: Excel provides the option to add new elements to the custom sort list, allowing you to expand and modify the list based on your evolving needs. This feature is especially useful when dealing with frequently updated datasets.
  • Importing Custom Lists: You can import custom sort lists from external sources or other Excel workbooks, enabling you to leverage existing lists and incorporate them into your sorting process.

Complex Sorting Scenarios

  • Alphanumeric Sorting: Custom sort lists can handle complex sorting scenarios, such as sorting alphanumeric data (e.g., combining letters and numbers) in a specific sequence. This is particularly useful for organizing product codes, identification numbers, or any alphanumeric identifiers.
  • Custom Date Sorting: With custom sort lists, you can define a unique date sorting order based on specific criteria, such as fiscal periods, academic semesters, or any other custom date ranges relevant to your data.
  • Sorting by Custom Criteria: Excel's custom sort list feature allows for sorting based on custom criteria, such as specific categories, hierarchical levels, or any other unique sorting requirements tailored to your dataset.

Best Practices for Using Custom Sort Lists

Custom sort lists in Excel can be incredibly useful for efficiently organizing and analyzing data. However, to ensure their long-term usability and effectiveness, it is important to follow best practices for maintaining and organizing these lists.

A. Offer tips for maintaining and organizing custom sort lists for long-term usability
  • Regularly review and update: It is essential to regularly review and update your custom sort lists to reflect any changes or additions in your data.
  • Organize by category: Group similar items together within your custom sort lists to improve their usability and make it easier to locate specific items.
  • Backup your lists: To prevent loss of data, it is advisable to regularly backup your custom sort lists to ensure they can be restored if necessary.

B. Discuss strategies for integrating custom sort lists into specific data management workflows
  • Identify common sort criteria: Understand the specific data management workflows within your organization and tailor your custom sort lists to align with these criteria.
  • Train team members: Ensure that all team members are familiar with the custom sort lists and understand how to effectively use them within their data management workflows.
  • Automate sorting processes: Utilize Excel's features, such as macros and custom functions, to automate the sorting process and streamline data management workflows.

C. Highlight the benefits of regularly updating and refining custom sort lists
  • Improved efficiency: Regularly updating and refining custom sort lists will ensure that they remain relevant and effective, ultimately improving the efficiency of data analysis and management.
  • Accurate data organization: With updated and refined custom sort lists, you can ensure that your data is accurately organized, making it easier to extract meaningful insights and make informed decisions.
  • Enhanced usability: By keeping custom sort lists up-to-date and refined, you can enhance their usability, making it easier for all team members to effectively utilize them in their data management workflows.


Creating and using a custom sort list in Excel is a valuable skill for efficient data organization and management. By following the key points outlined in this tutorial, you can easily create and apply a custom sort list to arrange your data in a specific order that makes sense for your workflow. Custom sort lists are particularly useful for handling non-alphabetical data, such as months, product names, or department codes, and can save you time and effort when it comes to organizing your spreadsheets.

Overall, custom sort lists offer a practical solution for maintaining order in large datasets, and I encourage you to explore and implement them in your own Excel workflows. By adding this tool to your repertoire, you can streamline your data management process and ensure that your information is structured in the most efficient manner.

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