As efficient as Microsoft Excel is, there is little that is visually pleasing in a screen full of columns and rows. This does not really matter, for while other Office applications may offer more in the way of visuals, Excel is the brains of the family; the hard working son who gets on with his homework while the rest of the family get ready for a fancy dress party. That is not to say that Excel is a stick-in-the-mud; there are many ways to brighten up your worksheets with different coloured backgrounds and lines, and by adding graphics. You can also achieve that professional touch by adding radio buttons or check boxes.

Although both of these allow the user to make selections, radio buttons and check boxes (often referred to as widgets) serve different purposes and it is important to understand these differences if you are to use them correctly.

A radio button (sometimes called an options button for reasons that will become apparent) is a small circle that is used where one selection only is requested, as in answering a simple yes or no, or where one option is required from a list, like giving feedback on questions such as 'how would you rate this article?' and the options are rubbish, poor, fair, good and excellent; you can only choose one option.

You are probably familiar with radio buttons as they appear in many different forms online. Visually the radio button is an empty circle inside which a smaller, solid circle appears when you select it. You cannot select more than one radio button, although any attempt at selecting a second button will be successful, but this will automatically deselect the original button. This type of button is known as mutually exclusive, and it should always be used where only one response is requested.

Check boxes differ from radio buttons in that, apart from being square, you can make multiple selections, and a tick rather than a solid circle appears within the small box. Unlike mutually exclusive radio buttons, selecting a second check box does not automatically deselect a previously chosen one.

Check boxes are particularly useful for situations where multiple answers are requested, such as when selecting various options from a list (hobbies and interests, favourite film genres etc). It would be wrong to use check boxes where a single, mutually exclusive response is called for. For example, if you wanted a yes or no response to the statement 'I agree to the terms and conditions', and you used check boxes rather than radio buttons, then the reader could tick both yes and no.

To insert a widget into your worksheet, simply draw out a rectangle from the Drawing toolbar. Then, if it is not already open, go to View/Toolbars/Forms. You will see both the check box and radio button in the dialog box. Click on the one you want and then click within the rectangle and your widget will drop in.

Repeat this process to add more until you have the required number of widgets within your rectangle Right click to highlight individual boxes, and left click to drag them into position, resizing the outer rectangle if necessary.

You can then type in the choices you would like to appear next to each box or button. When you have lined up all of your widgets inside the rectangle you can resize it to enhance the visual effect and add colour by using the Fill tool just as though you were dealing with an ordinary drawing object.

It is important that all widgets that adhere to a particular question should be held within the same rectangle. Your widgets can be laid out either vertically or horizontally, but the key factor to bear in mind here is that there should be absolutely no confusion as to which choice relates to which box or button.

So why not add a professional look to your Excel worksheets with the aid of radio buttons and check boxes? This article has only skimmed the surface of what widgets can do, so exploring the subject further, perhaps as part of a training course, would open up a whole new area of this versatile application, and that can only be a good thing, can't it?

Yes ○ No ○