How to Sort Columns in Pivot Table

adminEdit By nancy sherif28 March 2023Last Update :

Mastering Pivot Table Column Sorting

Pivot Tables in Excel are a powerful tool for summarizing, analyzing, exploring, and presenting your data. They allow you to reorganize and match data according to your needs. However, the true power of Pivot Tables shines through when you can sort the data to highlight trends, compare figures, or simply make your data more readable. In this article, we’ll dive deep into the process of sorting columns in Pivot Tables, ensuring that you can manipulate your data to serve your analytical needs effectively.

Understanding the Basics of Pivot Table Sorting

Before we delve into the intricacies of sorting, it’s essential to understand the basic structure of a Pivot Table. A Pivot Table consists of rows, columns, values, and sometimes filters. Each of these areas can be sorted to present the data in a way that best suits your analysis. Sorting columns in a Pivot Table can be done in ascending or descending order, based on the values, alphabetically by the column headers, or even by custom lists.

Sorting by Values

One of the most common ways to sort columns in a Pivot Table is by the values within the cells. This is particularly useful when you want to rank data, such as sales figures, from highest to lowest or vice versa.

  • Select any cell in the column containing the values you want to sort.
  • Right-click and choose Sort from the context menu.
  • Select Sort Largest to Smallest or Sort Smallest to Largest as per your requirement.

Sorting by Column Labels

Sometimes, you might want to sort data alphabetically by the column labels. This is especially useful when dealing with non-numeric data such as names or categories.

  • Click on the column label you want to sort.
  • Go to the Data tab on the Excel ribbon.
  • Click on A to Z or Z to A to sort the column accordingly.

Advanced Sorting Techniques in Pivot Tables

While basic sorting can be quite straightforward, Pivot Tables also offer advanced sorting options to handle more complex data sets and requirements.

Sorting Multiple Columns

When dealing with multi-dimensional data, you may need to sort by more than one column. Excel allows you to sort one column and then another, creating a hierarchy of sorts.

  • First, sort the primary column using the basic sorting method.
  • Then, hold down the Shift key and click on the secondary column header to add it to the sorting hierarchy.
  • Right-click and choose the desired sort option for the secondary column.

Sorting Using Custom Lists

Excel also allows you to sort data based on custom lists you create. For example, if you have a column with the names of the months, you might want them to appear in chronological order rather than alphabetical.

  • Go to the File tab and click on Options.
  • In the Excel Options dialog box, click on Advanced.
  • Scroll down to the General section and click on Edit Custom Lists.
  • Create a new list with the order you require and click Add.
  • Now, when you sort the column with the months, Excel will use your custom list as a reference.

Sorting with Data Grouping

Data grouping is another feature that enhances the sorting capabilities of Pivot Tables. Grouping allows you to combine data into categories and then sort within those categories.

  • Right-click on a cell within the column you want to group.
  • Select Group from the context menu.
  • Choose the grouping criteria and click OK.
  • Once grouped, you can sort the groups just like any other column.

Case Study: Sorting Sales Data in a Pivot Table

Let’s consider a practical example where a company wants to analyze its sales data. The Pivot Table contains sales figures for different products across various regions. The goal is to sort the data to identify top-performing products and regions.

Step-by-Step Sorting of Sales Data

The company’s Pivot Table has ‘Product’ as row labels, ‘Region’ as column labels, and ‘Sales’ as values. Here’s how they would sort their data:

  • First, they sort the ‘Sales’ column in descending order to see the highest sales figures at the top.
  • Next, they sort the ‘Region’ columns alphabetically to have a uniform order across the table.
  • Finally, they apply a custom list sort on the ‘Product’ rows to group similar products together.

This sorting strategy allows the company to quickly identify which products are performing well in which regions, enabling them to make informed business decisions.

Sorting Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

While sorting can be incredibly useful, there are some common pitfalls that users should be aware of to avoid misrepresenting their data.

Sorting Only Part of the Data

One mistake is sorting only a part of the Pivot Table, which can lead to rows or columns being out of sync. Always ensure that the entire column or row is selected before sorting.

Ignoring the Grand Total

Another issue arises when sorting columns with a Grand Total. Excel will include the Grand Total in the sort by default, which might not be desirable. To avoid this, you can remove the Grand Total before sorting or use the ‘More Sort Options’ to exclude it.

FAQ Section

Can I sort a Pivot Table based on the grand total column?

Yes, you can sort a Pivot Table based on the grand total column by simply clicking on the grand total cell and selecting the desired sort option.

How do I sort a Pivot Table with multiple value fields?

To sort a Pivot Table with multiple value fields, you need to select the specific value field you want to sort by and then apply the sorting criteria to that field.

Is it possible to sort a Pivot Table by a calculated field?

Yes, you can sort by a calculated field in a Pivot Table. Just like any other field, click on the calculated field column and choose the appropriate sort option.

Can I undo a sort in a Pivot Table?

Yes, you can undo a sort in a Pivot Table by using the undo command (Ctrl + Z) or by reapplying the original sort order.


Sorting columns in Pivot Tables is a fundamental skill that enhances your data analysis capabilities. Whether you’re sorting by values, labels, or using custom lists, understanding how to effectively sort your data can lead to more meaningful insights and better decision-making. Remember to be mindful of common pitfalls and always double-check your sorted data for accuracy. With practice, sorting columns in Pivot Tables will become second nature, and you’ll be able to manipulate your data with ease and confidence.

Remember, the key to mastering Pivot Tables is experimentation and practice. So, don’t hesitate to try out these sorting techniques on your data sets. Happy analyzing!

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