What are Reference Styles?

Change reference style in Excel spreadsheets with this free lesson. Also use the Excel reference style feature to better work with data.

What are reference styles?

Every Excel spreadsheet contains rows and columns. Most of the time, columns are identified by letters (A, B, C), and rows are identified by numbers (1, 2, 3). In Excel, this is known as the A1 reference style. However, some prefer to use a different method where columns are also identified by numbers. This is known as the R1C1 reference style.

In the example below, the image on the left has a number over each column, which means it is using the R1C1 reference style. The image on the right is using the A1 reference style.

While the R1C1 reference style is helpful for certain situations, you'll probably want to use the A1 reference style most of the time. This tutorial will use the A1 reference style. If you're currently using the R1C1 reference style, you'll need to turn it off.

To turn off the R1C1 reference style:

  1. Click the File tab to access Backstage view.
    Click File on the Ribbon to go to the Backstage view.
  2. Click Options.
    Screenshot of Excel 2013
  3. The Excel Options dialog box will appear. Click Formulas on the left side of the dialog box.


  4. Uncheck the box next to R1C1 reference style, then click OK. Excel will now use the A1 reference style.