Notes vs Comments, understand the new difference in Excel

Microsoft has been messing about with Notes and Comments in Excel 365 and they haven’t quite finished yet.  Here’s what’s happening, name changes, overlapping functionality and how Excel has gone from ‘Notes’ to ‘Comments’ and now back to ‘Notes’ again!

There are now two different ways to add text notes or comments into an Excel 365 cell.  The choice of Comments or Notes.

Source: Microsoft

Threaded Comments were added in early 2019 and ever since then, Microsoft has been slowly sorting out the consequences for Excel users.


Comments (left) are a threaded discussion for collaboration on a shared workbook.  It’s the same as in Word 365 and PowerPoint 365. See Comments have changed for the better in Excel 365

In the latest Excel 365 there are two choices on the right-click menu for cells.

New Comment – is the threaded ‘modern’ discussion.

New Note – the older yellow text box, once called a ‘Comment’.


Notes (right) are single, standalone, plain text notes that can be attached to any cell.

Since Excel 97 until the 2021 releases of Excel 365, they were called ‘Comments’.  This is from Excel 2016 …

A lot of the Excel documentation out there will talk about ‘Comments’ meaning what are now ‘Notes’.

Confused?  Get in the line … it’s a mess of Microsoft’s making.

Why change the name from Comments to Notes?

Across the main Office apps, Microsoft has introduced a way for people to ‘talk’ while collaborating on a document.  Instead of just text remarks these ‘modern’ Comments are threaded (i.e. replies are kept together) and can by marked as ‘resolved’ and set aside.

Unfortunately, Redmond decided to call this innovation ‘Comments’ even though that name was already being used in Excel.  A term like ‘Discussion’ or ‘Conversation’ would have been more accurate but they went with ‘Comments’ despite the conflict.

That’s left the Excel development team and millions of users to sort out the naming conflict and confusion.

Microsoft added Comments quickly to Excel. Then went back and are now tidying up the confusion between Comments (now Notes) and the new Comments.

A period of transition

For the moment, Excel 365 is in a period of transition. What’s available for Notes/Comments and how it’s presented depends on the exact version of Excel 365 you have.  Insiders (of various types) and current public releases may vary a little in exactly how the menus and options appear for Comments/Notes.

Office Watcher Allan C from Auckland found one place where Microsoft hasn’t finished clearing up the Notes/Comments mess.

Right-click on a Note and there’s still an option to ‘Format Comment’ which should now be ‘Format Note’

It’s like that in the latest Insiders and Public/Current releases.  A minor thing but a sign of the tangled web that Microsoft made for themselves.

Their ‘solution’ to the Comments/Notes conflict in Excel for the web (browser) was to drop support for the yellow notes completely! It’s only in August 2021 that notes (yellow boxes) were fully restored to the browser-based version of Excel.

From Notes to Comments and now back to Notes!

Go back far enough and you’ll discover that text annotations to Excel cells were called ‘Notes’ once before.

Back in Excel 95, there were ‘Cell Notes’.

Excel 97 changed to ‘Comments’ in the familiar yellow boxes.  It’s been that way for over 20 years until the 2021 Notes vs Comments upheaval.

Comments have changed for the better in Excel 365
One person Comments in Word