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How to Create and Use a Dropdown List in Google Sheets

By default, entries into unlocked cells in Google Sheets care freeform. You and any editors you share a Sheet with can type or paste any numbers, letters or symbols into an unlocked cell.

Even images can be entered into Google Sheets cells.

This is one of the aspects of spreadsheets that makes them different from database applications — a lack of rigor.

But it is possible to enforce the entry of only certain values in Google Sheets cells with by creating an in-cell dropdown list.

Steps for creating and using a dropdown list

Our recommended approach is to first create a new sheet within an existing Google Sheets file. Name the sheet “Dropdown Values.”

We’ll use business income and expense accounts as an example.

Add income and expense values to Column A. We have entered values in the A1 to A15 range.

Google Sheets Dropdown Values

In a separate sheet within the same file that’s used to track income and expense line items, add a column with a header name of “Account.”

Select the cell under the column header.

Google Sheets Data Validation - Select Cell

Add data validation to this cell by selecting Data > Data validation from the menus.

Google Sheets Data Validation Menu

In the Data validation dialog:

  • Select the “List from a range” criteria
  • Enter the range using =’Dropdown Values’!$A$1:$A$15
  • Click the “Show dropdown list in a cell” checkbox
  • Select the “Reject input” radio button
  • Click the “Show validation help text:” checkbox
  • Add help text such as “Please select a value from the list”
Google Sheets Data Validation Dialog

When you click into the cell, you will see the dropdown list. Make a selection.

Google Sheet Dropdown Display

If a Sheet editor types something into the cell rather than selecting a value from the list, they will see the following dialog.

Google Sheets Data Validation Error Message

Finally, copy cell D2 down as many cells as needed. You can also copy a cell down after making a selection, which is convenient when you have sorted the sheet by Column B as we have in this example.

Google Sheets Copy Validation Cell

You are now ready for yourself and other editors of the Google Sheet to use the dropdown list.

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