Difference Between a Table and List in Excel

By Gina Poirier

Tables and lists help you manage your Excel spreadsheet data.
i Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images

If you use different versions of Microsoft Excel or communicate with someone who does, you may be confused when the terms "table" and "list" are used interchangeably. That is because both terms are used to describe the same feature on different editions of the software. Functionally, they are mostly the same. Lists are the original version of the feature; tables are the evolution of that feature with a few added benefits.

About Lists

Lists were introduced in Excel 2003. They are like miniature spreadsheets within an existing Excel worksheet. This feature is useful if you want to manage or analyze small sets of data independently of the larger data set on your spreadsheet. Options for analysis within your list include rearranging and reformatting data, as well as creating totals in a new "total row." Create multiple lists on one spreadsheet to separate your data into distinct sections that can be managed without affecting other data.

How To Create a List

To make a list in Excel 2003, select the range of data you want to use by clicking and dragging your cursor over it until it is highlighted. Click the "Data" menu and select "List." Then click "Create List." Select the "My list has headers" check box if you have highlighted any headers. Click "OK." Once your list is created, modify it by using options in the "List" toolbar.

About Tables

Tables are a feature in Excel 2007 and 2010. They are similar to lists because they isolate groups of data in miniature spreadsheets within an Excel worksheet. Like lists, tables are intended to help you manage and analyze data sets independently from the rest of your worksheet. The differences are that tables have additional functionality and a more helpful appearance than lists. By default, tables display rows in alternating colors to better distinguish data, while lists do not have different colors. While lists only allow you to create a "total row," tables enable you to make a custom "calculated column." Tables also have a "sizing handle" in the lower right corner that allows you to drag and enlarge them. The other major feature that tables offer is the ability to delete a table without losing the data or formatting within it.

How to Create a Table

To make a table in Excel 2007 or 2010, select the range of cells you want to use by clicking and dragging over them with your cursor until they are highlighted. Click the "Insert" tab. Then click the "Table" icon in the "Tables" group. Select the "My table has headers" check box if your selection includes headers. Click "OK." Once you have created your table, manage its appearance with the "Table Tools" tab.