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How to Use Data Validation in Google Sheets (Easy Guide)

Entering data into a spreadsheet can be tedious, especially when collaborating with others. Fortunately, Google Sheets provides a helpful tool called data validation that can save you headaches down the road. 

In today’s guide, we’ll explore what data validation in Google Sheets is, why it’s so essential when working with shared spreadsheets, and how you can set it up in a few simple steps.

Data validation in Google Sheets allows you to define restrictions on what type of data can be entered in a cell. This is extremely important for shared sheets so that anyone you give access to doesn’t overwrite key parameters or enter incorrect data by accident. 

For example, you may want to create a drop-down list of options, limit entries to whole numbers only, or prevent future dates from being included. With data validation in Google Sheets, you can control what’s permissible.

As we walk through examples of implementing data validation in Google Sheets, you’ll find it is a very intuitive feature that prevents frustrating errors down the line. 

Whether you regularly collaborate with others on spreadsheets or want to avoid typos in your own work, mastering data validation in Google Sheets will make your job easy and hassle-free. 

Let’s begin by understanding what data validation in Google Sheets is. 

What is Data Validation in Google Sheets? A Simple Explanation

Data validation lets you control what a user can input into your Google Sheet cells. It’s like creating rules for what data types can go in specific cells.

For example, you can set things up so:

  • Only a date can go in a date cell
  • Only a number, like a price, can go in a price cell
  • Only one of 3 options (apples, bananas, or oranges) can go in a fruit cell

When you add data validation to cells in Google Sheets, it checks any inputs against those rules you set up. If someone tries to put in the wrong data type, like text in a cell that should only hold numbers, Google Sheets will show them an error message or reject their input.

Simply put, data validation gives you control over cell inputs and keeps data uniform. This helps prevent mistakes, especially in sheets many people access. It’s great for things like budget spreadsheets, inventory lists, invoices, trackers, and more.

The key is that data validation locks down what can go in a cell. And it saves time catching bad data before it messes up formulas.

Why Data Validation In Google Sheets is So Important

When you type in a Google Sheet, data validation is like having your assistant catch errors for you. It makes sure what’s entered in cells fits the rules you set up. This keeps your Sheet running smoothly.

Let’s look at some examples:

Say you’re tracking student test scores, which must be 0-100. Without data validation, someone could accidentally put in a number too low or high, like -5 or 105. But with validation turned on for that column, Google Sheets would give an error message if numbers outside 0-100 are entered.

Data validation also helps when you need data entered a certain way. For example, if you’re making a sheet to log customer purchases by date, you likely want dates formatted consistently. So, setting date validation means Google Sheets ensures only valid dates go into those cells.

The cool thing is that you can customize validation in many helpful ways, such as setting up drop-down lists for categories, limiting text length, allowing whole numbers only for counts, and more.

So, while it may sound technical, data validation just means letting Google Sheets protect your data from human mistakes. 

5 Top Reasons to Use Data Validation in Google Sheets

Adding data validation rules to your Google Sheet cells has many helpful benefits. Let’s take a look at some of them: 

  1. Get Accurate Data – Data validation spots incorrect or mismatched entries that break your rules. This catches mistakes before they create issues in your Sheet.
  1. Keep Consistent Formatting – With data validation, you can set cells to only accept data formatted a certain way, like dates or currency. This keeps your data uniform for easier sorting.
  1. Speed Up Searching – Matching formatted data means being able to search your Sheet with filters for what you need. 
  1. Control Shared Sheets – When collaborating on a Sheet, data validation limits what others can enter to fit your parameters. No more faulty data messing up formulas.
  1. Save Time – Spend less time cleaning up data issues as data validation prevents the wrong data from being entered in the first place. It’s automation at work.

Give yourself a helping hand and turn on data validation rules for the cells and columns that matter most to your Sheet. 

How to Use Data Validation in Google Sheets” section:

Now that we’ve covered the essentials of data validation in Google Sheets, let’s walk through some examples of how to set it up. Whether you want to create a dropdown menu, limit entries to numbers only, or prevent dates from being entered in the future, these step-by-step tutorials will show you how it’s done.

We’ll start simple and build up to more advanced usage as we go along. You’ll be able to follow each example using your own blank Sheet as we go.

The key to data validation is understanding the restrictions you want to set. From there, Google Sheets makes it fairly intuitive to put the rules in place.

Copy Sample Sheet

If you want to follow today’s tutorial on how to use data validation in Google Sheets, you’re welcome to copy our sample data below.

Click Here To Copy This Sheet

Example 1: Setting a Number Limit Using Data Validation

Imagine you’re a teacher with a list of seven students, and you need to record their test marks in Google Sheets. But you want to ensure the marks entered are between 0 and 100. Let’s see how you can do this using Data Validation” in Google Sheets.

Here are the steps to take: 

Step 1: Select the Cells

First, click and drag your mouse over the cells where you’ll enter the marks. These are the cells to which we’ll apply our magic number limit. For this example, we will highlight cells B2:B8. 

Step 2: Open the Data Validation Menu

With the cells where you want to apply data validation selected, click on “Data” at the top of the page, then choose “Data validation.” 

A menu will pop up on the right side of your screen. It should look something like this: 

Step 3: Add Rules and Set Data validation criteria

Once the data validation rules Google Sheets menu launches, what you want to do is Add rules. After that, you’re set to tweak the data validation criteria. 

To make changes to the data validation criteria, what you want to Click on “Criteria,” and in the dropdown menu, select “Is between.” This is where we tell Google Sheets our data validation custom formula Google Sheets number limits.

Step 4: Enter Minimum and Maximum Values

You’ll see two boxes under “Criteria.” Put “0” in the first box and “100” in the second. This sets our lower and upper limits for the marks.

Step 5: Choose What Happens with Wrong Data

At the bottom of the menu, decide what Google Sheets should do if someone tries to enter a number less than 0 or more than 100. For this example, we will pick “Show a warning.”

Step 6: Save Your Settings

Finally, click the green “Done” button. Your data validation Google Sheets should now be set up exactly how you want it.


What Happens Now?

When you or someone else types in a mark between 0 and 100, Google Sheets will be happy and accept it. But, if someone enters a number outside this range, a little red triangle will pop up in the cell. If you hover your mouse over this triangle, it’ll tell you what’s wrong.

Let’s quickly test our spreadsheet to see if this is the case. What we would do for this example is enter the number 1050 in one of the cells and see how it reacts. 

From the screenshot above, you can see that our data validation setup works perfectly. 

Creating a Dropdown List Using Data Validation

In our last example, we looked at how to use data validation to limit numerical inputs to a set range. This prevents incorrect scores or values from being entered by mistake in a spreadsheet.

Building on that concept, data validation drop down Google Sheets also allows us to create handy dropdown menus to choose from predetermined options. This is perfect for populating a list column from a controlled set of categorical values, like months of the year.

Our objective with this example is to create a dropdown menu with data validation that limits month selections to 1 of 12 values. This dropdown will populate in the “Birth Month” column when cells are selected, preventing incorrect or misspelled entries.

Let’s say you’re keeping track of students’ birth months and you want to make sure the months are entered correctly. With Google Sheets, you can create a dropdown list that only shows the 12 months of the year. 

Here is what our sample data looks like: 

Now that we have our sample data nicely put together, let’s show you how to set it up: 

Step 1: Select the Cells

As we did in the previous example, click and drag your mouse across the cells where you’ll enter the birth months. These are the cells we’ll add our dropdown list to. For this example, we will go ahead and highlight cells B2:B8. 

Step 2: Open Data Validation

Now that we have selected the cells where we want to add the drop-down list; let’s quickly navigate to the Data menu at the top of the page. Here, we want to select the option for Data validation.

If you did as we showed you, a new menu will appear on the right. It should look something like this: 

Step 3: Add Rules and Choose the Dropdown Option

When the Data validation menu launches, you’ll see an option for Add rules. Click on that option to access other options. 

After adding new rules, the next thing you want to do is look for “Criteria.” Click on it and choose “Dropdown(from a range).” This option will help us perform data validation based on another cell Google Sheets.

Step 4: Specify the Months

For the next step, we need to have a list of the months somewhere in your sheet. It could be on the same sheet or a different one. Just ensure you know where it is. 

For this example, we have the list of months in cells F2:F13. So, for the “Dropdown (from a range)” box, we will type in or select the cell range where our months are listed. In our case, it’s $F$2:$F$13.

Step 5: Finalize Your Dropdown

After setting the cell range, click the green “Done” button. This will save your new dropdown list.

Step 6: Using the Dropdown List

Now, go back to your cells, and you’ll see a small arrow in each cell. Click on this arrow, and a dropdown menu will appear, showing all the months you listed. Now, you can easily choose a birth month from the list. 

Let’s check out our sample sheet to see if what we did worked. 

From the video above, you can see that we have successfully created a dropdown list using data validation in Google Sheets. Now, that’s another way to use data validation in Google Sheets. 

Final Thoughts on Mastering Data Validation in Google Sheets

After walking through examples of using data validation list Google Sheets for number limits and dropdown menus, you can see how valuable this feature is for controlling entries in Google Sheets.

The key takeaways are:

  • Data validation allows you to define rules and restrictions on what can be entered in cells
  • It prevents incorrect, inconsistent, or invalid data from being inputted
  • Settings like number ranges and dropdown lists make entering data easier and more accurate
  • Data validation saves time, especially for catching errors and maintaining the integrity of your sheets

While we just scratched the surface of what’s possible, you now have the basics to utilize data validation across your spreadsheets. Don’t be afraid to customize the criteria and error alert settings to fit your needs. Let us also quickly add that you can do data validation Google Sheets from another sheet.

And if you collaborate with team members, data validation provides peace of mind that you’re all on the same validated page. Take your Sheets to the next level and leverage this invaluable tool.