Now and then you just can't see the wood from the trees. Think of a data-intense spreadsheet with thousands of rows of figures. It's sometimes just not possible to see patterns and trends from looking only at raw data in your worksheet. And it really is impossible to tell at a glance if you are over or under budget unless you are looking closely at the figures. But by applying simple colours to worksheets, your data can deliver a lot more clout with Excel 2010.

How about using colour to indicate relationships between information in your spreadsheet? Or add emphasis when the text isn't speaking volumes by using a particular colour theme. Red, for example, is usually seen as a warning colour, while green pacifies and sends confirmation. You can use these colour associations to illustrate your point, but remember that meanings and colour associations can differ depending on influences such as nationality, so consider your audience.

It's easy to add colour to your cells in Excel 2010. Simply select the cell or range of cells you want to format. Then, on the Home tab, click on the Fill Colour button in the Font group. Select a colour from the palette. If you want to remove cell shading, simply select the No Fill option. If you prefer, you can right-click on cells, and select Format cells from the context menu to apply a colour. Simply click the File tab and select a colour from the palette.

And you can even apply a pattern to a cell. This type of shading is particularly useful when a worksheet contains lots of colour and you need your cells to stand out even more. This is helpful to anyone who can't differentiate between colours; or perhaps has a form of colour blindness. Colour blindness affects as many as five to ten per cent of men, with red-green being the most difficult to differentiate. Don't rely on colour to represent all your data in a workbook, as everyone should be able to decipher the data even without the use of colour.

Once you have selected the cells you want to shade, go to the Home tab and click on the Font dialog launcher - the box with the down arrow on the bottom right of the Format group. On the Fill tab, click the Pattern Colour list arrow then select a pattern colour. You can now select a pattern style from the Pattern style list. If you prefer you can simply use the background colour or pattern options separately and don't need to apply them together.

Applying colour and shading works particularly well when you have previously divided a worksheet into panels. For example, if you are working with a document that contains lots of computer screens of data, and you have combined these into panels to save scrolling through vast amounts of information. In this case applying colour coding is the ideal way to differentiate panels.

Excel 2010 allows you to use colour with conditional formatting, when you need to show a pattern of information by applying percentage shades of colour. With conditional formatting, you can apply formatting to one or more cells based on the value of the cell. You can highlight interesting or unusual cell values, and visualise the data using formatting such as data bars.

Think of a temperature chart, for example, as it gets warmer, the colour could run from orange to red; and likewise from green to blue to depict cooler readings. You could apply the same colour rules to show monthly sales figures as they near their peak. If you want to add a touch of colour to cells in your data sheet, use Excel 2010 - and get your data out of the shade.