AutoFill and FlashFill are both handy, time-saving Microsoft Excel Features, but they aren’t the same. Here’s how they differ.

Have you ever opened a blank spreadsheet, say to start a budget for your family, and instantly became annoyed because you’re thinking about how you have to manually type in all of the months? Turns out, there’s an easier way!

The Autofill feature in Microsoft Excel is a handy, time-saving tool that can automatically fills in cells with a series, pattern, or formula based on the data you provide. People use Autofill to quickly populate cells with consistent or predictable data, such as dates, numbers, days of the week, or custom lists. It reduces the need for manual data entry and helps maintain data accuracy.

To use the Autofill feature:

Enter data in a cell or a series of cells that establish a pattern. For example, type “1” in cell A1 and “2” in cell A2 to create a numerical pattern.

Select the cells containing the pattern you want to extend (in this example, select cells A1 and A2).

Move your cursor to the bottom-right corner of the selected cells until it changes into a black plus sign (the fill handle).

Click and hold the left mouse button, then drag the fill handle over the cells you want to fill with the pattern. As you drag, Excel will display a preview of the values it will populate.

Release the left mouse button, and Excel will autofill the cells with the established pattern.

Not to be confused with Flash Fill.

AutoFill and Flash fill features are very similar but not the same. While the AutoFill feature senses the pattern of data, but it can only repeat a simple pattern. Flash Fill, on the other hand, can sense, repeat, and make adjustments to a pattern based on what the user is attempting to do.

For example, let’s say you use Excel as an address book and you want to upload your list to a 3rd party site to for Christmas cards. Your spreadsheet has first and last names in different columns, but the template calls for first and last names in the same cell. Flash Fill can recognize patterns such as combining first and last names, extracting parts of an address, or changing the format of dates and phone numbers.

To use the Flash Fill feature:

Enter your data in a column or row. For example, if you have a list of first names in column A and last names in column B, and you want to combine them in column C.

In column C, start typing the desired result based on the data in columns A and B (e.g., type the full name for the first entry, like “John Smith”).

Press Enter to move to the next cell in column C.

Start typing the next full name, and Excel will automatically display a Flash Fill suggestion for the remaining cells based on the pattern you provided. If the suggestion is correct, press Enter to accept it and fill the cells.

Alternatively, you can use the following method:

After typing the first full name in column C, press Ctrl+E or go to the Data tab and click Flash Fill in the Data Tools group.

Excel will automatically fill in the remaining cells based on the pattern you provided.

Note that Flash Fill may not always recognize complex patterns, and you may need to provide more examples or correct the suggested results to ensure accuracy.