Creating XBRL Instance Documents in Excel

By Lois S. Mahoney and Clinton White, Jr.

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JULY 2007 - If it isn’t part of an accountant’s vocabulary yet, XBRL (extensible business reporting language) is sure to be soon. The FDIC requires banks to file their quarterly call reports using XBRL-compliant documents. The SEC encourages registrants to report their financial information using XBRL and is updating its EDGAR system to handle XBRL filings and to support “interactive” data access and analysis.

Creating XBRL documents can be tedious and error-prone if done manually. Fortunately, software tools are continually being developed and improved to help make the creation of valid XBRL documents easier. For a list of available XBRL software, visit XBRL International at

Rivet Software, Inc.’s Dragon Tag and Dragon View ( are a simple solution for tagging existing financial information. Dragon Tag and Dragon View are both add-in packages for Microsoft Excel and Word. Dragon Tag facilitates tagging financial information to create XBRL instance documents, review the results, validate the XBRL instance documents, and render them as webpages. Dragon View allows viewing of XBRL instance documents without knowledge of XBRL. (All XBRL documents are referred to as “instance” documents because they are an instance of the documents defined in the XBRL specification.) The AICPA started promoting Dragon Tag and Dragon View in 2006.

This article demonstrates the use of Dragon Tag to prepare a valid XBRL partial balance sheet for commercial and industrial companies following U.S. GAAP. Users can download a 30-day free copy (the regular cost is $995 per user) of Rivet Dragon Tag follow the exercise in this article, and create a partial balance sheet. (Note that coauthor Lois S. Mahoney uses her name for the example.)


The first step is to go to Rivet Software’s site, www.rivet, and download Dragon Tag 2006 (30-day free trial), along with the installation instructions. Once you install the software, click on “Start Excel with Dragon Tag Add-in” and the Dragon Tag toolbar will appear in Excel.

The next step is downloading U.S. GAAP taxonomy for commercial and industrial companies (USGCI). The USGCI taxonomy is a suite of files that defines the agreed-upon, standard account tags (names) to be used for reporting information in computerized financial statements and the ways in which accounts are grouped together for subtotals, totals, and presentation. These files need to be downloaded from the XBRL International website in order to assure proper referencing and validation when building the XBRL instance document.

The XBRL International website has approved taxonomies for different financial reporting entities and for particular industry sectors ( To demonstrate a commercial company, follow the link for U.S. GAAP-Commercial and Industrial (

Scroll down to the “All DTS files” and click on “ZIP” to download the suite of files. In this example, we will download the Zip file to the root drive and unzip or extract the archive (it can be saved anywhere, but make a note of the location). Later in the example, you will need the file “us-gaap-ci-2005-02-28.xsd” in the unzipped directory C:\2005-02-28 CI DTS\us\fr\gaap\ci\2005-02-28\.

Develop the Spreadsheet

The next step is to create a Word or Excel document that contains the financial statement information that will be transformed into an XBRL instance document. Exhibit 1 shows a partial balance sheet for a fictitious company named White Incorporated, developed by the authors in Excel for this demonstration. Using Dragon Tag, we will tag the account values in the balance column with the appropriate XBRL tags and create a valid XBRL partial balance sheet instance document in accordance with U.S. GAAP.

Develop an Entity Profile

The first step in using Dragon Tag is to establish an entity profile. An entity profile contains the name, ID, and website of the reporting company, along with the default reporting currency and the taxonomy to be used. To start the Entity Profile, click on the “Entity Profiles” button on the Dragon Tag toolbar. The Entity Profile dialog box will now appear.

Next, click on the “Create New Entities” icon to create and name a new entity (Exhibit 2). First, enter the name of the company, White Incorporated, in the “Name” field. Next, complete the “Unique ID and Scheme” section. For ID, choose the unique ID that you normally use for outside reporting, such as a federal tax ID or stock exchange ID. Enter your company’s website address in the URL text box. For this example, enter “WI” in the ID field for White Incorporated and “” for the URL. From the “Default Currency” menu, choose “USD United States Dollar.” Finally, go to the “Default Taxonomy” field and click on the “Browse” button. The “Open Taxonomy File” dialog box should appear. At this point, Dragon Tag expects you to navigate to and open the schema file that you previously downloaded. Navigate to its location on your hard drive (in this example, it should be in the folder C:\2005-02-28 CI DTS\us\fr\gaap\ci\2005-02-28\), click “us-gaap-ci-2005-02-28.xsd” (.xsd identifies it as a XML schema file), and open the file. At this point, the “Entity Profile” dialog box should look like Exhibit 3. Notice the green hexagon now under the browse button, which indicates that the schema file has been properly installed. Also notice how the Name, Description, Language, Label Role, and View Type fields are automatically populated. The final step is to click the “Save Entity” icon in the upper left-hand corner and close the Entity Profiles dialog box.

Tagging the Balance Sheet Numbers

The next step is to actually tag the data items (numbers) in column B of the spreadsheet (see Exhibit 1) using the previously downloaded taxonomy. This taxonomy contains agreed-upon tags (names) for commercial and industrial companies to use in their financial reporting. To find the name tags, click the “Markup Data” button on the Dragon Tag toolbar, and the “Reporting Elements” dialog box should appear. Next, click the “Reporting Elements” button in the lower left-hand corner, then double-click “My Taxonomies” in the top of the reporting elements text box, and then double click on “us-gaap-ci-2005-02-28.” The dialog box should now look like Exhibit 4. Notice that the tags are grouped in categories that correspond to each financial statement. Because the example is a partial balance sheet, double-click on the “Statement of Financial Position” and drill down to find the appropriate tags for the accounts shown in the spreadsheet.

For example, drill down to find the tag for cash. To do so, double-click Statement of Financial Position > Statement of Financial Position > Assets > Assets-Current > Cash-Cash Equivalents and Short-Term Investments > and Cash and Cash Equivalents > Cash - Unrestricted. You will see that Cash - Unrestricted contains a green circle to its left, indicating that it is an approved XBRL tag. Click and drag “Cash - Unrestricted” to cell B7 (or the cell containing the cash balance) in the worksheet. Notice, as shown in Exhibit 5, that cell B7 turns blue, indicating that the cell has been tagged. Also notice that a green circle with a star now appears next to Cash - Unrestricted in the “Reporting Elements” dialog box, indicating that the Cash - Unrestricted tag has been used.

Now you need to tag the remaining numbers in our Excel spreadsheet. Repeat these steps for each of the accounts in column B of the sample spreadsheet. The tags can be found in the following categories in the “Reporting Elements” dialog box:

  • Receivables, Net - Total—under the Receivables, Net category
  • Inventories, Net—under Inventories, Net category
  • Assets - Current - Total—under the Assets-Current category.

When finished, check to ensure that each of the tagged cells in your spreadsheet (those that report a balance) has turned blue, indicating that each has been tagged. Once each of the balances has an approved XBRL tag, this stage is complete.

Defining Date and Precision of Reported Numbers

The next step is to enter into Dragon Tag the date of the financial statements and the level of precision needed. To enter the appropriate date, click on the Calendar button located in the lower left-hand corner of the “Reporting Elements” dialog box and then expand your Calendar window by clicking on the “>>” icon in the upper right-hand corner.

The dialog box should now look like Exhibit 6. Right-click on “My Calendar Periods” in the upper left-hand corner of the Calendar dialog box and click on “Add Time Period.” Calendar 1 should now appear. To set the balance sheet date, click on the “As-of-Date” button and change the date to 12/31/2006 in the drop-down menu. Finally, you need to tag all the numbers in column B of your spreadsheet with this date. To do so, click and drag “Calendar 1” to each of the tagged cells in the spreadsheet. Notice that a blue star now appears next to “Calendar 1” in the dialog box, indicating that it has been used for tagging.

To record the level of precision (the level of rounding), click on the “Numeric Units” button located in the lower left-hand corner of the dialog box, and then double-click on “Simple Units.”

Double-click “Precision” and then check the box labeled “Digits as shown” in the “Precision” box (see Exhibit 7) on the right to indicate that the balances in the spreadsheet have not been rounded. (If the numbers have been rounded, check the appropriate box.) The next step is to tag all the balances in column B of the spreadsheet with this precision level. Click and drag “Digits as Shown” to each of the cells in the spreadsheet. Notice that a green star now appears next to “Digits as Shown,” indicating that it has been used for tagging. At this point, click the “Save” button and close the dialog box before the next step.

Validating the Markup

The next step is to validate the markup to ensure that every number (account balance) has been tagged with a name, date, and precision level. To validate your markup, click on the “Validate Markup” button on the Dragon Tag toolbar, and the “Markup Validation” dialog box will appear. Click on the “Validate” button. If all of your markup is correct, the dialog box will return the following message: “There are no validation errors found in the current document” (see Exhibit 8). If you did not markup your document correctly, the report will show markup errors in red and incomplete markups in gray. The error message indicates the type of error and the cell it is located in. Fix any errors, and then revalidate the spreadsheet until everything is correct.

Creating an XBRL Instance Document

The final step is to complete your XBRL partial balance sheet instance document. Click on the “Export XBRL” button on the Dragon Tag toolbar to reach the export dialog box.

To export your XBRL document, click the “Save File” button (Exhibit 9) and name the file; for example, WhiteInc Balancesheet.xml. The .xml extension indicates that this file is a XML document—all XBRL instance documents are also XML documents and the .xml extension is universally recognized by software applications. The resulting XBRL instance document file can be sent via e-mail, posted on a website, or filed with a regulatory authority. If you want to see how your file will look as a webpage in your browser, click on the “Web Preview” button; the sample spreadsheet should look like Exhibit 10. To create this webpage, Dragon Tag uses the standard presentation information found in the us-gaap-ci-2005-02-08 taxonomy to label the line items and create a standard Statement of Financial Position hierarchy.

Start with the Basics

Rivet Dragon Tag is an easy-to-use tool to create and validate XBRL instance documents from existing Excel spreadsheets. As XBRL comes of age as a computerized financial reporting format, accountants should become more familiar with its basic concepts, including taxonomies, tags, instance documents, and validation. XBRL provides accountants with the tools to add meaning and context to accounting, financial, and business operations data, making it understandable, reusable, and precisely interpretable by software applications. XBRL instance documents can be coded by hand but must be validated by special software applications, such as Dragon Tag, which performs the validation from the convenience of an Excel spreadsheet.

The goal of this article has been to introduce readers to the basics of creating and validating XBRL instance documents through the use of one common software solution. There are others out there, such as CoreFiling, Creative Solutions, Fujitsu (see, and all of the products will continue to evolve with the technology. This article represents the first step in becoming familiar with XBRL, an emerging financial reporting standard that will become more important over time.

Lois S. Mahoney, PhD, CMA, CPA, is an assistant professor in the department of accounting and finance at Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, Mich.
Clinton White, Jr., DBA, is a professor in the department of accounting and MIS in the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics at the University of Delaware, Newark, Del.




















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