The QAT is a tiny row of icons that can appear either above the ribbon, as shown in the figure, or below the ribbon. It debuted in Excel 2007 with default icons for Save, Undo, and Redo. You could customize it to add additional icons for your favorite or most-used commands.

When Office 2007 introduced the ribbon, users were frustrated trying to find where Microsoft had placed various commands and then having to take multiple steps to get to them. For example, even after learning where the AZ and ZA sort buttons were on the Data tab, using them still required a click to choose the Data tab and then another click to return to the Home tab. By adding an icon to the QAT, users could have quick access to it without having to change tabs in the ribbon.

You can easily add any icon to the QAT by right-clicking the icon in the ribbon and choosing Add To Quick Access Toolbar. You can also add commands to the QAT that can’t be found in the ribbon, such as the icons for Superscript, Subscript, and Speak Cells. For a complete list of these hidden commands, right-click the QAT and choose Customize Quick Access Toolbar. In the Choose Commands From drop-down menu, the second choice is “Commands Not in the Ribbon.”

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I met several people who embraced the QAT. They learned that they could invoke one of the first nine icons on the QAT by pressing and releasing the ALT key and then pressing a number (1 through 9). They’d carefully arrange their icons on the QAT so they could use these keyboard shortcuts. (Note: These aren’t typical hot keys where you press ALT+1 together, like with CTRL+C to copy or CTRL+V to paste. You need to press ALT, release it, then press the appropriate number.)

Others who preferred to use the mouse learned that they could move the QAT below the ribbon. Right-click the QAT and choose Show Quick Access Toolbar Below The Ribbon. With the QAT below the ribbon, the commands are closer to the grid. There’s room for more icons when the QAT is below the ribbon because it isn’t sharing the same row with the workbook title. I’ve even met people who minimize the ribbon and spend 40 hours a week using Excel from a carefully curated set of icons on the QAT below the ribbon. It’s these people who are most likely to be alarmed by the recent changes to the QAT.


There was a weakness with the QAT. There are a lot of commands that could be added to the QAT that didn’t have an icon. If you added one of these commands, it would appear as a green crystal ball. Once you had several commands with identical green crystal ball icons on the QAT, you’d need to hover over each one to reveal the tooltip to find the command you wanted.

As part of the Office refresh for Windows 11, the Excel team added the ability to show both the icon and a short description of the icon when the QAT is displayed below the ribbon. And, to make this change discoverable, they set the command labels to appear automatically if you have the QAT displayed below the ribbon. Imagine the person with 40 to 50 carefully chosen icons who one day opens Excel to find that the command labels have pushed most of the icons off the screen.

To get rid of the command labels, right-click the QAT and choose Hide Command Labels.

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Personally, I used to keep the QAT above the ribbon. I like the command labels so much that I’ve started moving the QAT below the ribbon just so I can see the command labels next to each icon. Unfortunately, you can’t display the command labels if the QAT is above the ribbon.

There’s another unfortunate side effect of the command labels. In order to fit more icons on the QAT, the Excel team shortened the text used for the command labels. The commands are arranged alphabetically by the new command label in the Customize Quick Access Toolbar dialog box. For example, the old command “Speak Cells on Enter” is now found as “On Enter [Speak Cells on Enter].” Thus, the five Speak Cells commands are now spread throughout the alphabet when they were previously all grouped together in the “S” section of the list. The commands are now labeled as: “By Columns,” “By Rows,” “On Enter,” “Speak Cells,” and “Stop Speaking.” It often takes longer for me to find commands to add to the QAT due to the renaming of the command labels.

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