Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Excel versions: 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Excel in Microsoft 365. If you are using an earlier version (Excel 2003 or earlier), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for earlier versions of Excel, click here: Using List Box Controls.

Using List Box Controls

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated December 27, 2022)
This tip applies to Excel 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Excel in Microsoft 365


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Excel allows you to define graphical controls within your worksheet. Buttons and other controls are placed in your worksheet by displaying the Developer tab of the ribbon and using the Insert tool in the Controls group.

One of the form controls you can place in your worksheet is called a list box. This is a scrollable list of options from which the user can choose. You might use these in a worksheet if you have a group of options from which you want the user to choose. Let's assume you have a worksheet that provides a price quote and the price is contingent on which color of widget the user wants. Having the users type the name of a color is open to error. For instance, they might enter the name of a color you don't carry, misspell the color name, or refer to a color as "gray" when your terminology is "slate." Rather than have them type a color in, you can present the various colors in a list from which they can choose.

To place a list box control in your worksheet, display the Developer tab of the ribbon, click the Insert tool (in the Controls group), and then click the List Box tool in the Form Controls section. You then use the mouse to define the rectangle that will hold the list box and the scroll bar at the right side of the box.

To use a list box effectively, you have to link it to two separate areas on your worksheet. The first is called an input list, and represents the options in the list. The second is the cell link, which contains the currently selected option. To set these areas, follow these steps:

  1. Choose the list box control (the one you placed on your worksheet) by clicking on it once.
  2. Click on the Properties tool in the Controls group on the Developer tab of the ribbon. Excel displays the Format Control dialog box.
  3. Make sure the Control tab is selected.
  4. In the Input Range field, supply the name or address of the cell range that contains the options to be included in the list box.
  5. In the Cell Link field, specify the cell that will contain the value indicating which option is selected.
  6. In the Selection Type portion of the dialog box you can specify how many options in the list can be selected at the same time. When you use list boxes on a regular Excel worksheet, it is important to leave this option set to Single. The other options only have meaning if you are creating a custom dialog box.
  7. Click on OK.

You should note that the Cell Link setting specifies a bi-directional relationship between the cell and the control. This means that a change in the selected option will change the value in the cell, but a change in the cell value will also change which option is selected in the list box. The value stored in the linked cell indicates the number of the option selected in the list. Thus, if you have a list of seven options and the second option in the list is selected, the value in the linked cell will be 2.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (8318) applies to Microsoft Excel 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Excel in Microsoft 365. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Excel here: Using List Box Controls.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...

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What is one more than 7?

2022-12-29 07:56:26

Mike J

This tip looks like a solution desperately looking for a problem to solve, and it is not even reliable.

For example, this is a "bi-directional relationship", so if you have a list of say, 7 items, and then type in '9', there is no error message, the list now just exhibits the last (7th) item.

Also, if you re-sort the list after selecting it from the drop-down box, the selection may well change, and no longer be correct.

It's difficult to see how this solution improves on the much simpler Data Validation/List method, which does not seem to suffer from these potential errors.


2022-12-27 14:20:39

Ken Kast

Allen, It's been helpful that you added the "applies to" caveat at the top of a tip. It turns out, tho, that a fair number of your tips apply only to Excel (Microsoft 365) on the Windows platform. We Mac users are left searching in vain. Today's tip is an example. Could you expand your "applies to" to include whether it's for all platforms or Windows only? Thanks.


2022-12-27 10:32:55

Bruce Watson

When using the List Box, the Output to the designated cell is a Number, not the selected text. 1st item in list returns "1", second item returns "2" and so on... Would one need to set a Vlookup table and formula to return the text entry selected instead of the position number in the list?
(see Figure 1 below)

Figure 1. Screen Shot


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