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MS Excel: Extending Your Sequential Pattern

Most Excel users know that if you have data in a cell you can use the fill handle to increase the selected cell range down a column or across a row. (The fill handle allows for only one direction – column or row – not both.)


The result is that Excel will fill all cells selected with a copy of the information in the original cell. (Things like days or months will fill in sequentially when the fill handle is used.)

For sequential data, the fill handle is made even better when combined with the Ctrl key. The result is that it will not make a copy but instead continue the sequence (1, 2, 3…) in increments of 1. (Using the fill handle + Ctrl key on a day or month type data will create duplicates of the original data… don’t ask me why it’s backwards for this type of information… I don’t have a clue.)

Of course, the resulting question is what happens when the sequential pattern you’re trying to create doesn’t increase by 1?

Maybe you have data that increases by 5’s or decreases by 2’s… or you could need every 3 days for a period of time… whatever pattern it is that you need the question is still there. Can the fill handle work when you need to extend a pattern that doesn’t increase by 1?

The answer is yes – but then again, you suspected that all along.

All you have to do to make this work in these cases is be a little more specific when telling Excel what pattern to fill. We accomplish this by starting our selection with 3 to 5 cells that contain the pattern. (I’ve gotten it to work with 2 cells selected but depending uon the pattern you may need more.)


Anyway… before you drag the fill handle down a column or across a row be sure to select multiple cells that contain enough of the pattern for Excel to figure it out.

When you release the mouse button you should find that your pattern was maintained as the cells were filled. (There are some patterns that Excel won’t be able to decipher – I found that it didn’t deal with multiplications… such as every number doubling. It definitely works on patterns that are increasing or decreasing by the same increment.)

That’s really all there is to it… give Excel a hint as to what pattern you need and it will do all the rest of the work for you!

~ April