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Comments and Notes Upgraded in Excel for the Web

28 September 2021

There have been some recent updates to the threaded comments and notes experience in Excel.  When what was known as “threaded comments” in Excel for Windows, Excel for Mac and Excel for the web was released back in January 2019, Microsoft originally decided to keep the legacy comments (the yellow sticky notes) in the Windows and Mac versions and rename them notes.  However, it has become clear that notes and comments serve different purposes, and that Microsoft needed to support both in order to address different user scenarios (e.g. conversations vs. annotations).

The problem was, when threaded comments were introduced, the ability to create notes in Excel for the web was removed.  This meant that notes created in the desktop version looked and worked differently in Excel on the web, e.g.

  • Notes on the web did not appear when hovering over the in-cell indicator.  It required the user to hover and click an on-object user interface (UI), which would open the note in the Comments pane 
  • Notes on the web did not appear as yellow sticky notes.  Instead, they took the form of threaded comments.  When users attempted to edit or reply to a note, they would be required to first convert the note to a threaded comment
  • You could create new threaded comments on the web, but not new notes.

For reference, here is how comments and notes appear presently in Excel for Windows:

This is used for conversations.

This example is used make annotations or share instructions.

To counter this, Microsoft has instigated some important steps to address these inconsistencies and improve the overall user experience with notes and comments in Excel for the web.  With this borne in mind:

  • Threaded comments and notes may now display as floating objects.  Excel for the web now supports floating notes on the grid, and notes have also been moved out of the Comments pane.  Now, when you hover over the in-cell indicator, notes (and comments) will float on the grid, directly aligned to the cell they are related to
  • The notes have been updated to look like notes (rather than threaded comments).  Comments and notes each have their own familiar UI.  The notes on the web have been revised to look and feel like those created in Windows and Mac.  Now, when you create a note in either, it will render as a yellow sticky note on the web.  When viewing notes on the web, there will no longer be confusion as to whether the object is a note or a comment
  • The functionality to create both threaded comments and notes on the web is now fully supported.  There is now the ability to create yellow sticky notes in Excel on the web.  This means you may choose the optimal solution for your specific scenario.

Working with comments and notes across Windows, Mac and the web is simple.  On the Review tab, you can:

  • select ‘New Comment’ to create a comment.
  • select ‘New Note’ to create a note.

It should be noted that you may also right-click the cell you want to place a comment or note on, then use the shortcut menu to accomplish the task.

Other commands related to comments and notes are also found on the Review tab, allowing you to show or hide notes or comments, move to the next or previous item, convert notes to comments, etc.

To explore the improved functionality of notes and comments in Excel for the web, try the following:

  • View desktop notes on the web.  This may be achieved by creating a note in Excel for Windows or Excel for Mac.  You should note that when you view the note in Excel for the web, it appears on hover and looks like the yellow sticky note you are familiar with

  • Create a note on the web.  Excel now supports the creation of both comments and notes on the web.  To create a yellow sticky note, select Review -> New Note.  (You may also right-click a cell and select ‘New Note’ in the shortcut menu)
  • Manage notes on the web.  When you select a cell that contains a note, you can right-click it and choose a command to edit, show / hide, delete or convert the note to a threaded comment.  Using the Notes button on the Review tab, you can create new notes, navigate through all notes with the next and previous commands and convert all notes to threaded comments
  • Show all notes on the grid.  To see all your notes on the grid, select Review -> Notes -> Show All Notes
  • See all notes and all threaded comments.  If you want to see all your notes and all your threaded comments at the same time, select Review -> Notes -> Show All Notes, and then select ‘Show Comments’ to open the Comments pane
  • Convert a note to a threaded comment.  If you have created a note in a cell and want to start a conversation or @mention someone, you need to convert the note to a threaded comment.  Simply select and right-click the cell with the note you want to convert, choose ‘Convert Note’ in the shortcut menu, and then click the ‘Convert’ button confirm the action.  The note becomes a threaded comment, and you can now start a conversation, @mention others and send notifications

When threaded comments were introduced with the legacy comments renamed as “notes,” it was noted that many would want to continue to use the notes with the usual keyboard shortcuts.  Therefore, the legacy comment shortcut (SHIFT + F2) has been retained to create a note.  Further, Microsoft is also introducing a new keyboard shortcut to create a threaded comment: CTRL + SHIFT + F2 (COMMAND + SHIFT + F2 on the Mac).  However:

  • on cells that already contain a note, pressing SHIFT + F2 will put the note in Edit mode
  • on cells that already contain a threaded comment, pressing CYTL + SHIFY + F2 (COMMAND + SHIFT + F2 on the Mac) will open the comment and put the focus in the Reply box.

Whilst notes in Excel on the web work much like notes have always worked in Excel for Windows and Excel for Mac, there are still a few differences and areas to be aware of.  In particular, notes in Excel on the web:

  • do not support rich text formatting, background colour or images
  • cannot be repositioned on the grid
  • may be shown, hidden and resized, but for a given user session only.  Other co-authors will not see these formatting changes.

The above features are being released over some time to ensure things are working smoothly.  If you don’t have these features yet, don’t worry, they’re coming!!

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