Text boxes in Google Sheets – How and when to use them

Inserting a text box into Google Sheets

As discussed in this post, there are many times when a text box is a great solution for displaying large pieces of text in a spreadsheet. Inserting a text box into Google Sheets is possible, but finding out how is not readily apparent. If you have a need for a text box in your data, go to Insert -> Drawing.

sheets insert drawing menu

After selecting Drawing, the Insert Drawing options appear below. Select Text box, which is the second from the right.

sheets insert text box

Once you select insert text box, you will be able to type inside a rectange as shown below. You can also change the border, background color, and text styles. 

insert drawing text box

This is all well and good. If you knew exactly what text you wanted to type and insert and you knew you were never going to change it, then you are done and it was easy. However, in the real world, you never know exactly what you are going to type and you often need to add and delete text. Modifying text, while not terribly hard, is not as easy as it should be. You have to double click on the box, wait for another window to pop-up, and then start typing. Having said that, it’s still easier than typing the content into cells, merging and applying text wrap. It’s just not quite as easy as using a text box in Excel.

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Text boxes in Excel – How and when to use them with Examples

Insert Text Box into Excel

If you are having trouble fitting text into a particular cell, or if you want a cleaner, easier method to show larger pieces of text, inserting a text box into your spreadsheet is a good solution.  In our post about using text boxes in spreadsheets, we see how many steps there are to inserting text if you do not use a text box.  The steps for inserting text using a text box are simple.

Click on the Insert Ribbon 

insert ribbon 

and then click on Text Box.

insert text box

In the editing window, click where you want the upper left hand corner of the box.  While holding down the left button, drag down and to the right until the box is the size and shape you would like.  You are now ready to type as the cursor is already in the box waiting for you.

You can style the text by right clicking on the text the same way in which you would format other text.  In order to make the text box stand out, you can also right-click on the border of the box to change the weight of the border, the color, and the fill of the background.

style text box 2

Using text boxes in spreadsheets – Better than typing into a cell

Why use a text box?

Alternative to merging cells and wrapping text when using spreadsheets

Text boxes are used for large blocks of text in a spreadsheet.  One of the limitations of a spreadsheet is the clunkiness of inserting large pieces of text without interrupting the visual flow of the data.  The quickest way to insert text is to just type directly into a cell.  However, this presents several problems.

  • Too big for a cell

    • Inevitably, if you are typing more than a word or two, the content will flow out of the cell.  Visually, it will overlap the cell(s) to the right but the data won’t actually be in those other cells.  Because of this, if you add something into the cell that it is overlapping, the new content will appear over the text that you originally typed.

overlapped text

Merge cells

    • To work around this problem, one method is to merge the cells in which you want to display the text.

merged cells

  • Now the text in yellow resides in only one cell.  This can be helpful since there is no longer a chance that data will overlap it. However, you lose the option of using the cell to the right.  This can break the flow of the spreadsheet if you needed that cell. For longer strings of data, you can merge columns and rows of cells.

Text longer than two cells

merged cells but still too long


  • In the image above, an even longer piece of text has been inserted. This one overlaps more than one cell. We are back to the same problem.

merged cells columns and rows


After merging rows and columns

  • As you can see in the images above, when you merge a cell into different cells that live in different columns and rows, spreadsheets think that you still want the data to extend outside of the cell even if there is room inside of it.

  • Next, you have to apply wrap text

merged cells after wrap text


Wrap text applied to the cell

  •  What a pain!  As you can see, this are way too many steps for such a simple outcome.  Even worse, if you add lines of text to the cell, you will have to merge it again with neighboring cells.  Stop the insanity!!!


Text boxes save the day

Seven ways Excel is better than Google Sheets with examples

Excel and Sheets

There are advantages and disadvantages to both. Read on to see seven key features compared between the two programs.

Split views

Excel’s Split lets you see different areas of the same worksheet in one window at the same time.  You can scroll in each view independent of the other views.  No new windows are open.  The worksheet will have dividing lines showing the split which can be vertical, horizontal, or both.

split view
Excel worksheet with a split view. Note the selected cell showing twice.

Sheets – Nada!  No comparable option.

Video Explaining Differences

Use two windows

In Excel, you need to click New Window then Arrange All.  At this point, you choose if you want to see them arranged vertically or horizontally.  Each window gets its own set of scroll bars and the different views can be on separate worksheets within the workbook.  This is an advantage over Split which only works on one worksheet (tab) at a time.  However, the disadvantage is that it is a little more clunky to deal with two windows if you don’t need them.

split view
Two windows looking at different worksheets in the same workbook

Sheets will allow you to see the same spreadsheet in two windows, but it is a work-around that is not obvious.  You have to open Google Sheets in an additional tab on your browser, move that tab into its own window, then line up the two windows next to each other.  Once you get this done, things work pretty well.  

Sheets in two browser windows
Sheets in two browser windows


Microsoft has a robust set of special characters that can be used in your document.  You find them in the Insert ribbon under Symbols.

Excel's special characters
small portion of the special characters available inside Excel

If you are using Google Sheets though, you must use a workaround like this one.


Excel offers a function that, at first, seems redundant.  The Clear function enables a user to remove everything from selected cells.  Where this comes in handy is when a cell has multiple attributes that need to be removed.  If you are using a spreadsheet with just raw data, this may not matter.  But if you have cells with highlighting, custom borders, data in the cell, conditional formatting, etc, Clear All gets rid of everything in one click.

drop down menu for Excel's clear function
drop down menu for Excel’s clear function

In Sheets, you would have to remove each attribute separately.  So, if there was a cell with yellow highlighting, iitalic font, and a number you would have to remove each item with separate clicks in Sheets.

Double bottom border

Different border types can help to further explain totals in a spreadsheet.  Using Excel, a user can show a subtotal, then a total by using a single and a double underline.

Excel's double underline
Excel offers the double underline which Sheets is missing

In Google Sheets, the double underline is not available. [Double underline is available now after a 2017 update]. This means that the user may have to rearrange the data to make the same point or do a work around.

Easier printing

You can customize the printing of an Excel worksheet just about any way you can think of.  You can use page break preview, you can set headers and footers, and move page breaks manually.

None of these options are available in Google Sheets. Printing in Sheets was improved in an April 2018 update and now many of the options from Excel are available in Sheets.

Filter by highlight

Excel introduced filtering by highlight in the 2007 version of its product.  If all of your important information has been highlighted, then it only makes sense that you may want to be able to quickly bring all of the information to the top of your spreadsheet.

Excel's sorty by cell color
Excel can sort by the color of a cell’s highlighting

Apparently, the makers of Google Sheets do not agree!  As of this writing, there is no way that this can be done.  

Google Sheets – Comment vs Note and how to use them

Google Sheets has recently enhanced its cell commenting ability to include the option of inserting a “Note” or a “Comment.” The differences between the two are not obvious. Following is an overview of what they do and how to choose which one you should use.

Both comment and note can be selected by right-clicking on the cell (if you’re using a mouse on a Windows PC).

comment note menu

Use the Note function to leave a simple note in the cell just like you would with Excel’s comment function. With Note, you can simply add information about the cell. Only use this if it doesn’t make sense to add the note directly into the cell. Notes can be helpful, but if they are not needed, they add unneeded complexity. Often, users will overlook notes and only notice information that is typed into cells, so use them only when called for.

google sheets note

Video explanation

The Comment functionality is Note on steroids. Notes are usually sufficient if one user is creating and viewing a spreadsheet. However, if you have multiple users, especially in different physical locations, the Comment functionality can be very helpful. It enables users to have a back and forth conversation about a cell without altering its contents. The Comment functionality can be especially useful in a supervisor/staff relationship where one person is reviewing another’s work.

Google Sheet Comment

In summary, use the note function when you want to leave a quick note and nothing else. Use comment if you want to start a conversation with someone else about a cell.