Ideas in Excel

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Ideas in Excel empowers you to understand your data through natural language queries that allow you to ask questions about your data without having to write complicated formulas. In addition, Ideas analyzes and provides high-level visual summaries, trends, and patterns.

Have a question? We can answer it!

Simply click a cell in a data range, and then click the Ideas button on the Home tab. Ideas in Excel will analyze your data, and return interesting visuals about it in a task pane.

If you're interested in more specific information, you can enter a question in the query box at the top of the pane, and press Enter. Ideas will provide answers with visuals such as tables, charts or PivotTables that can then be inserted into the workbook. 

Animated image of using natural language processing in Excel's Ideas service.

If you are interested in exploring your data, or just want to know what is possible, Ideas also provides personalized suggested questions which you can access by clicking on the query box. 

Try Suggested Questions

Just ask your question

Click in the text box at the top of the Ideas pane, and you'll see a list of suggestions based on your data.

Ideas in Excel will give you suggested questions based on an analysis of your data.

You can also type a specific question about your data.

Ideas in Excel answering a question about how many Locks or Helmets were sold.

Notes: 

Customize your Ideas

If you do not have a question in mind, in addition to Natural Language, Ideas analyzes and provides high-level visual summaries, trends, and patterns.

You can save time and narrow down your Ideas by selecting only the fields you want to see. When you choose fields and how to summarize them, Ideas analyzes just that data - speeding up the process and presenting fewer, more targeted suggestions. For example, you might only want to see the sum of sales by year. Or you could ask Ideas to display average sales by year. 

Click Which fields interest you the most?

Ideas pane with the link to the Preferences pane highlighted

Select the fields and how to summarize their data.

Preferences Pane with several fields selected

Ideas offers fewer, more targeted suggestions.

Ideas pane showing customized suggestions

Note: The Not a value option in the field list refers to fields that are not normally summed or averaged. For example, you wouldn't sum the years displayed, but you might sum the values of the years displayed. If used with another field that is summed or averaged, Not a value works like a row label, but if used by itself, Not a value counts unique values of the selected field.

Ideas works best with clean, tabular data.

Sample Excel Table

Here are some tips for getting the most out of Ideas:

  1. Ideas works best with data that's formatted as an Excel Table. To create an Excel Table, click anywhere in your data and then press Ctrl+T.

  2. Make sure you have good headers for the columns. Headers should be a single row of unique, non-blank labels for each column. Avoid double rows of headers, merged cells, etc.

  3. If you have complicated, or nested data, you can use Power Query to convert tables with cross-tabs, or multiple rows of headers.

Didn't get Ideas? It's probably us, not you.

Here are some reasons why Ideas may not work on your data:

  • Ideas doesn't currently support analyzing datasets over 1.5 million cells. There is currently no workaround for this. In the meantime, you can filter your data, then copy it to another location to run Ideas on it.

  • String dates like "2017-01-01" will be analyzed as if they are text strings. As a workaround, create a new column that uses the DATE or DATEVALUE functions, and format it as a date.

  • Ideas can't analyze data when Excel is in compatibility mode (i.e. when the file is in .xls format). In the meantime, save your file as an .xlsx, .xlsm, or xslb file.

  • Merged cells can also be hard to understand. If you're trying to center data, like a report header, then as a workaround, remove all merged cells, then format the cells using Center Across Selection. Press Ctrl+1, then go to Alignment > Horizontal > Center Across Selection.

Ideas works best with clean, tabular data.

Sample Excel Table

Here are some tips for getting the most out of Ideas:

  1. Ideas works best with data that's formatted as an Excel Table. To create an Excel Table, click anywhere in your data and then press COMMAND +T.

  2. Make sure you have good headers for the columns. Headers should be a single row of unique, non-blank labels for each column. Avoid double rows of headers, merged cells, etc.

Didn't get Ideas? It's probably us, not you.

Here are some reasons why Ideas may not work on your data:

  • Ideas doesn't currently support analyzing datasets over 1.5 million cells. There is currently no workaround for this. In the meantime, you can filter your data, then copy it to another location to run Ideas on it.

  • String dates like "2017-01-01" will be analyzed as if they are text strings. As a workaround, create a new column that uses the DATE or DATEVALUE functions, and format it as a date.

  • Ideas can't analyze data when Excel is in compatibility mode (i.e. when the file is in .xls format). In the meantime, save your file as an .xlsx, .xlsm, or xslb file.

  • Merged cells can also be hard to understand. If you're trying to center data, like a report header, then as a workaround, remove all merged cells, then format the cells using Center Across Selection. Press Ctrl+1, then go to Alignment > Horizontal > Center Across Selection.

Ideas works best with clean, tabular data.

Sample Excel Table

Here are some tips for getting the most out of Ideas:

  1. Ideas works best with data that's formatted as an Excel Table. To create an Excel Table, click anywhere in your data and then click Home > Tables > Format as Table.

  2. Make sure you have good headers for the columns. Headers should be a single row of unique, non-blank labels for each column. Avoid double rows of headers, merged cells, etc.

Didn't get Ideas? It's probably us, not you.

Here are some reasons why Ideas may not work on your data:

  • Ideas doesn't currently support analyzing datasets over 1.5 million cells. There is currently no workaround for this. In the meantime, you can filter your data, then copy it to another location to run Ideas on it.

  • String dates like "2017-01-01" will be analyzed as if they are text strings. As a workaround, create a new column that uses the DATE or DATEVALUE functions, and format it as a date.

We're always improving Ideas

Even if you don't have any of the above conditions, we may not find a recommendation. That's because we are looking for a specific set of insight classes, and the service doesn't always find something. We are continually working to expand the analysis types that the service supports.

Here is the current list that is available:

  • Rank: Ranks and highlights the item that is significantly larger than the rest of the items.

Line chart showing Payroll with noticeably higher Spend

  • Trend: Highlights when there is a steady trend pattern over a time series of data.

Line chart showing Spend increasing over time

  • Outlier: Highlights outliers in time series.

Scatter chart showing outliers

  • Majority: Finds cases where a majority of a total value can be attributed to a single factor.

Donut chart showing People accounting for the majority of Spend

If you don't get any results, please send us feedback by going to File > Feedback.

Because Ideas analyzes your data with artificial intelligence services, you might be concerned about your data security. You can read the Microsoft privacy statement for more details.

Ideas uses material from third-parties. If you'd like to read the details, see Licensing information for Ideas.

Need more help?

You can always ask an expert in the Excel Tech Community, get support in the Answers community, or suggest a new feature or improvement on Excel User Voice.

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