Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Excel versions: 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, Excel in Microsoft 365, and 2021. 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: Understanding Ascending and Descending Sorts.

Understanding Ascending and Descending Sorts

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated April 1, 2023)
This tip applies to Excel 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, Excel in Microsoft 365, and 2021


As you might expect from their names, ascending sorts are done such that values increase, while descending sorts result in values decreasing. How does this affect your actual data, however?

If you choose to do an ascending sort, Excel uses the following sorting order:

  1. Number values, from least to greatest
  2. Date and time values, from earliest to latest
  3. Text values, punctuation first, numbers second, then alphabetically (1, 2, 3, a, b, c, and so on)
  4. Logical values, FALSE, then TRUE
  5. Error values

Descending is the opposite of ascending. No matter which order you choose, Excel always places blanks (empty fields) at the end of the final list. Understand, as well, that ascending and descending sorts can be modified in Excel based upon custom lists and cell colors, both of which are beyond the scope of this tip.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (12399) applies to Microsoft Excel 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, Excel in Microsoft 365, and 2021. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Excel here: Understanding Ascending and Descending Sorts.

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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