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: Countering Compressed Columns.

Countering Compressed Columns

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated August 25, 2023)
This tip applies to Excel 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Excel in Microsoft 365


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Mark is experiencing a problem where, when he opens a workbook, many of the column widths have been compressed (narrowed) and need to be reset. This could be caused by a number of different things, so you'll need to do some checking.

The first thing to check is if someone else is opening the workbook. For instance, if the workbook is accessible across a network, and another person opens it, they could be changing the column widths. The user could even be doing this inadvertently. For instance, if the user has a different screen resolution than yours, then Excel will adapt the workbook to that resolution, and that may change the column widths. The solution is to either make sure that nobody else opens the workbook or make sure that everyone uses the same screen resolution.

You should also check your Zoom setting for the workbook. It could be that the column widths aren't changing at all, but that the Zoom setting is. This would make the columns appear to be a compressed width, even though they aren't.

Finally, it could also be that there are elements in the workbook that are forcing Excel to change column widths when they are automatically calculated. There have been reports of elements such as PivotTables and graphics causing column widths to change automatically.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (10817) 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: Countering Compressed Columns.

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 six more than 3?

2023-08-25 13:45:39

Morris Manning

I have had the problem of column widths changing in a sheet where spacing was critical and dealt with it by creating a simple macro that reset column widths to my preferences. I put a button on quick access but it could be automated, depending on circumstances. Maybe not elegant, but worked fine. I have used a similar approach with pivot tables.


2019-12-29 10:00:59

Ken Cameron

Frank, did that quite a while ago with no luck.


2019-12-28 15:17:08

Frank Panipinto

Not sure how much this will help, but try deselecting "Autofit column widths on update" in Pivot Table Options.


2019-12-28 13:00:09

Ken Cameron

Allen, I get this issue constantly, but with two situations:
1. As you mentioned, with Pivot tables, especially when you hit Refresh. Pivot tables also seem to drop selected Line Borders. I use many Pivot tables in PowerPoint presentations and when I make a small change to the source data, I have to go and reformat all of the Pivot Tables. Very frustrating.
2. If a tab contains a large table, almost any edit to the table (delete a column, insert a column) generally wipes out the column widths. I think (not 100% positive) that column widths are kept in their "Relative" positions, i.e., if column "J" holds a date and width is set to 10 positions, column "K" holds full names with the width set to 30 characters, and column "L" is nickname only with width of 12 characters, if I delete any column before "K", the full name moves to column "J" but with the old column width of 10 positions. The nickname becomes column "K" and has the 30 character width. This is also so frustrating.


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