Setting Data Validation in Excel: How to Restrict Cell Values

Setting data validation to restrict values in Excel cells is a handy tool to ensure that the data entered into your spreadsheet is accurate and within a specific range. It’s a bit like a bouncer at a club – it only lets in the values that meet the criteria you set. This way, you can avoid the headache of sifting through and correcting erroneous data later on.

Step-by-Step Tutorial on Setting Data Validation to Restrict Values in Excel Cells

Before we jump into the nitty-gritty, let’s understand what these steps will do. By setting data validation, you’re creating rules for what can and cannot be entered into a cell. This can include setting a specific range of numbers, dates, or even a list of predefined items.

Step 1: Select the cells you want to restrict

Click on the cell or range of cells where you want to set the data validation.

When you select the cells, you’re telling Excel where to apply the rules. You can highlight a single cell, a group of cells, or even entire rows or columns.

Step 2: Click on the ‘Data’ tab and then on ‘Data Validation’

Find the ‘Data’ tab on Excel’s ribbon and then click on ‘Data Validation’ in the ‘Data Tools’ group.

The Data Validation feature is nested under the ‘Data’ tab. It might seem a bit hidden, but once you know where it is, it’s simple to access.

Step 3: Choose the type of data validation you want to set

In the ‘Data Validation’ dialog box, under the ‘Settings’ tab, select the type of validation you want to use from the ‘Allow’ dropdown menu.

There’s an array of options here, from whole numbers and decimals to dates, times, and lists. Each option comes with its own specific settings to fine-tune your validation.

Step 4: Specify the criteria for the validation

Depending on the validation type you selected, enter the criteria that the data must meet.

This could be a range of numbers, specific dates, or even a custom formula. This step is crucial as it defines what is considered valid data.

Step 5: Customize the input message and error alert (optional)

Still in the ‘Data Validation’ dialog box, you can switch to the ‘Input Message’ and ‘Error Alert’ tabs to customize messages that will appear when someone selects the cell or enters invalid data.

The input message is a little nudge to the user, reminding them of the type of data they should enter. The error alert is the "access denied" message that pops up if the data doesn’t pass the bouncer.

After completing these steps, the cells you’ve selected will only accept data that fits the criteria you’ve set. If someone tries to enter something that doesn’t match, they’ll get an error message, and the data won’t be entered. It’s a great way to maintain data integrity and save time on data cleanup.

Tips for Setting Data Validation to Restrict Values in Excel Cells

  • Make sure the cells you want to restrict are empty before setting up data validation. Otherwise, existing data might not meet the new criteria and could cause issues.
  • If you want to apply the same validation to multiple cells, simply copy the cell with the validation and paste it into the cells you want to restrict. Excel will apply the validation rules to those cells, too.
  • Utilize the ‘Custom’ option under ‘Allow’ if you need more complex validation criteria. This allows you to create a formula for validation.
  • Remember that data validation doesn’t prevent users from copying and pasting data into the cells. If this is a concern, consider protecting the sheet or using VBA macros for more control.
  • Regularly review and update your data validation settings to ensure they’re still relevant and effective, especially if the data requirements change.

Frequently Asked Questions on Setting Data Validation to Restrict Values in Excel Cells

What happens if I try to enter data that doesn’t meet the validation criteria?

If you enter data that doesn’t match the set criteria, Excel will show an error message and won’t allow you to enter the data until it’s corrected.

Can I use data validation to create a dropdown list in a cell?

Yes, you can. Under the ‘Allow’ option, select ‘List’ and then enter the items you want in the list. This will create a dropdown menu in the cell with your specified items.

Will data validation stop someone from pasting data into the cells?

No, data validation only restricts what can be typed into a cell. Pasted data will not trigger the validation rules unless you have set the worksheet to ‘Protect’ mode.

Can I use formulas in data validation?

Absolutely. You can select the ‘Custom’ option under the ‘Allow’ dropdown menu and enter a formula to set more complex data validation rules.

Is it possible to apply data validation to an entire column?

Yes, you can apply data validation to an entire column by selecting the column before setting up the data validation.


  1. Select the cells you want to restrict.
  2. Click on the ‘Data’ tab and then on ‘Data Validation’.
  3. Choose the type of data validation you want to set.
  4. Specify the criteria for the validation.
  5. Customize the input message and error alert (optional).


Setting data validation in Excel is like setting up a quality control checkpoint for your data. It ensures that only the correct and desired information makes it into your spreadsheet, saving you from the tedious task of data cleanup later. Whether you’re managing inventory, tracking expenses, or organizing a event, data validation is a crucial step in maintaining the integrity and accuracy of your spreadsheet.

Data validation is more than just a barrier; it’s a guide that helps users enter data correctly the first time around. It’s a small step that can make a big difference in the effectiveness of your data management. By following the steps outlined above, you’ll be able to set up data validation with ease and confidence, knowing that your spreadsheet is fortified against erroneous entries.

So, why wait? Dive into Excel, set up some data validation, and watch as your spreadsheet transforms into a more robust, error-resistant tool. After all, in the world of data, accuracy is king, and setting data validation to restrict values in Excel cells is your loyal knight, ready to defend your spreadsheet’s honor.