What does Excel tell you about your mouse?

The most difficult thing I see with novice Excel users is where to click. It is not always easy to understand instructions like “Double click the autofill handle” and “Click and drag among the rows.” This is because the user may not be clear about what they are clicking on. Sometimes, it can be a difference of just a fraction of centimeter. Students who are not comfortable with the program can get frustrated when they try to tell it to do something but aren’t familiar with how to use the mouse. Microsoft has created a set dynamic icons for the cursor, or “looks”, that will tell the user what will happen before it does. This helps to alleviate some frustration. The most common problem seems to be choosing the autofill handle. This is because there are many things going on at the junctions of each cell.
You will see one of the options above when you grab the autofill handle.
Number (1) is the standard icon that you will see as you move around the spreadsheet. The thick white cross on this case indicates that it is ready for the user’s selection of a cell or range of cells.

Number (2) is the cursor symbol and indicates that the user is over the autofill handle. The user can click and drag the thin black cross to activate autofill.

Number (3) means that the user is in edit mode and can modify the contents of the cell.
Number (4) is the most frequent “mis-click” in autofill. This icon indicates to the user that clicking and dragging the cell will cause it to cut and copy the contents to another location. If that is not what they want, it can be very frustrating. It’s easy to make this mistake and it’s not always obvious what is wrong. But if the user understands what the cursor icon means, they can avoid all that frustration.

Drew Hamilton
Instructor applications
[email protected]
“Ctrl+Z is the best option if all else fails.”