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Are you using spreadsheets that someone else created? Here’s what you must know.

When you create an Excel spreadsheet from scratch, you can control every single aspect. That’s not the case when someone else passes it on to you Before Sharing an Excel Spreadsheet, Make Sure You Do These Things First Before Sharing an Excel Spreadsheet, Make Sure You Do These Things First Sharing is a convenient way to collaborate on Excel workbooks, but before you put your Excel files in the hands of others, prepare your worksheets for sharing with these tips. Read More .

Especially at work, it’s not uncommon to inherit an Excel file from someone else. If you’re not careful, this could cause some major headaches down the line. Fortunately, a little foresight will go a long way toward ensuring that you can get along well with the spreadsheet in question.

Consider these five points, and you should avoid most of the common pitfalls associated with using someone else’s Excel document.

1. Update the Document Information

If you have never checked out your Excel documents’ Info screen before, we don’t blame you, it’s easily missed. The information is well worth updating when you take on someone else’s spreadsheet, however. Why? They might have made changes that you’ll want to know about.

excel info screen


Take the example above. The text added to the Title, Tags, Categories, and Author fields might be a little bit embarrassing if it was sent to a co-worker. In most cases, there won’t be anything incriminating on the Info screen — but why leave it up to chance? It’ll take less than a minute to check it out, and you can be sure that when you come to send the document to someone else, you won’t regret it.

To access the Info screen, click File.

file excel info

You’ll be transported directly to the Info section, where you can make any necessary adjustments before sending it on to a colleague.

2. Save a Copy Before You Do Anything Else

Once you inherit someone else’s document, it’s tempting to dive in and start treating it as your own. However, tiny changes might end up having a massive impact on the way the spreadsheet works.

To ensure that you don’t make a tweak that breaks VBA code The Excel VBA Programming Tutorial for Beginners The Excel VBA Programming Tutorial for Beginners VBA is a Microsoft Office power tool. You can use it to automate tasks with macros, set triggers, and lots more. We'll introduce you to Excel visual basic programming with a simple project. Read More , or adjusts a figure that turns out to be essential to another sheet, make a copy before you do anything. That way, you’ll always have an untouched version of the spreadsheet to go back to.

If worst comes to worst, know that you can also use Excel 2016’s file history to restore a previous version of the document. Click the circular arrow/clock icon in the top right to expand the Activity pane, then look for previous versions and select Open version.

excel 2016 activity file version

3. Check for Hidden Sheets

Hidden sheets are a handy way to keep your Excel spreadsheet neat and tidy while the hard work goes on behind the scenes. Having access to these sheets is crucial if you really want to understand how the document operates.

To find out whether there are any hidden sheets in a particular document, head to the Home tab and find Format in the Cells section.

excel format cells

Use the drop-down menu to click Unhide Sheet.

excel unhide sheet

This will take you to a list of all hidden sheets.

excel list of hidden sheets

Just select the one you want to reveal and click OK. Afterward, you’ll be able to access them as normal.

excel hidden sheet

4. Make Sure to Grab a List of Passwords

If you’re taking ownership of someone else’s spreadsheet, finding out if it’s protected by a password should be a priority. You’ll know whether it is or not as soon as you open the file.

However, Excel documents can utilize multiple layers of protection. It’s entirely possible that a password might be in place to prevent tweaks to a piece of VBA code.

excel password prompt

Fortunately, it’s not too difficult to remove this kind of password How to Recover an Excel VBA Password How to Recover an Excel VBA Password Stuck with an Excel VBA document that's locked with a password? We'll show you how to remove the password protection to recover the contents of the VBA macro. Read More . Still, it’s a better idea to simply ask the person who created the document to pass on any passwords you might need to know about.

5. Get to Know Who Has Editing Privileges

Modern versions of the Office suite make it very easy to share your files with other users, allowing them to make edits from afar. This is a great way to collaborate How to Ease Collaboration with the Office 2016 History Feature How to Ease Collaboration with the Office 2016 History Feature Need to work on a document with your colleagues? Tracking changes used to be tedious. With Office 2016's History feature, available to OneDrive for Business and SharePoint users, managing document versions becomes a snap. Read More , but it’s always worth checking in on who actually has access to a particular document.

For instance, does the author still have permission to view and edit the spreadsheet? Obviously, it’s unlikely that they would do anything untoward. However, they could feasibly change or delete data, or release trade secrets in the event that they’ve gone on to work with a competing company. While these are worst case scenarios, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

To see who can edit the document, click the Share button located in the top-right corner of the user interface.

excel share button

This should produce a list of user accounts that have access to the document, as well as notes on whether they can edit the file or just view it.

excel shared with

This is information that you really should be aware of for any document that you take ownership over.

Preparation Prevents Problems

If a spreadsheet is being handed off from one person to another, chances are that it’s pretty important — and chances are that it’s important to several people.

In this scenario, any issues with the document are going to cause some trouble. Since you’ve now taken ownership of the file, the job of fixing it will surely fall to you.

Responding to this kind of calamity once after the event is going to be much more difficult if you didn’t prepare properly. Knowing about things like hidden sheets, passwords, and the inner workings of the file How to Print an Excel Spreadsheet on One Single Page How to Print an Excel Spreadsheet on One Single Page A beautifully crafted spreadsheet loses all its appeal when it comes printed on nine sheets of paper, with half of them empty. We show you how to get everything nicely on one single page. Read More are great pieces of information to have on hand. Just make sure that you get to know them before disaster strikes, rather than scrambling for them after.

Do you have a tip about best practices when you’re working with someone else’s spreadsheet? Or are you looking for help with an issue of your own? Either way, why not join the conversation in the comments section below?

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  1. Robert
    August 26, 2017 at 7:25 pm

    1. Besides mentioned password protection, there is so called restriction access, where author (and I believe Author only) can restrict access to explicit list of users defined by their email address/account. This will cause, when you resend this spreadsheet to user who is not in this list, he/she will not be able to open it!

    2. Besides VBA script there might be another script in M-language in Power Query, which may include important and sensitive information about data, data sources, connections or even access keys...!
    OR, on the other side, the spreadsheet might be useless for you, until you get the access rights for all the connected data sources.

  2. Geoff Greig
    August 26, 2017 at 3:04 am

    Spreadsheets are even more complicated than badley written programming code so should have details of exactly what it is trying to achieve and how it does it. Preferably on a seperate sheet.

    Another thing to be away of is spreadsheets that contain circular references.

  3. azad
    August 25, 2017 at 2:17 pm

    Thanks i a interested in excel