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Hash Marks Displayed Instead of Cell Contents

Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Excel versions: 2007, 2010, and 2013. If you are using an earlier version (Excel 2003 or earlier), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for earlier versions of Excel, click here: Hash Marks Displayed Instead of Cell Contents.

Bob is having some problems getting Excel to display the text within a cell. What is happening is that Excel is displaying a series of # signs instead of the text. He notes that he is not even close to the character limit of the cell.

The answer here depends on what you mean by "the character limit of the cell." Generally, such a statement means that you haven't reached the limit of the text that Excel can store in the cell—approximately 32,000 characters. It is important to keep in mind that what Excel can store and what it can display are two different things, as will shortly be discussed. If, however, by "character limit" you mean that the cell is wider than what is stored in the cell, that is a separate issue.

First things first: Excel can store about 32,000 text characters in a cell, but it can only display up to 255 characters if the cell is formatted as text. If the cell contains more than 255 characters and the cell is formatted as text, then the hash marks are displayed. The solution is to change the format of the cell to general; then the text will display as you expect.

The more common occurrence is to see hash marks displayed when the cell contains a numeric (or date) value. If the cell is too narrow to display the value, then the hash marks are shown. They indicate that an "overflow" condition has occurred and that your value cannot be displayed as you want.

This is particularly common when displaying dates using a format that requires more horizontal space. For instance, if you display a date as "August 22, 2013," that date takes more column width to display than does "8/13/10." The solution is to simply widen the column so that the display doesn't overflow the width.

Dates will also display hash marks if you attempt to display a date value outside the range of dates that Excel can handle (1/1/1900 through 12/31/9999).

You should also note that you might see hash marks appear if you change the size of the font used in a cell. Change the font to a larger size, and Excel may not be able to display the value horizontally. If you can't widen the column then consider making the font smaller so that Excel can make the full value visible.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (8444) applies to Microsoft Excel 2007, 2010, and 2013. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Excel here: Hash Marks Displayed Instead of Cell Contents.

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Comments for this tip:

RKS    24 Jul 2016, 05:16
Thanks, This worked, I changed the format from Plain Text to Rich Text in front end fields on form in MS Access, for the number type back end fields.
Tiffany    10 Jul 2016, 21:17
I couldnt figure out why my text was displaying ##### and i had it formatted to text vand wrap text.. You just saved me about an hour of troubleshooting. THANKS!!!
Anasuddeen    15 Jul 2015, 00:54
Thanks,it is clear and very useful.
Barry    06 May 2015, 08:13

There is a little trick that may just work for you. It is based on the fact that Excel tries to "bend" the datatype to do what you want, sometimes.

I've tried this in Excel 2010 but not in other versions of Excel. If you put a number in a cell formatted as text or when entering a number preceding it with an apostrophe the number is technically text and therefore should NOT be available for computational functions BUT Excel will "bend" the datatype and interpret the number as a number. I know this doesn't work with many functions but does work for arithmetic functions (+,-,*,/,^).

For example I have in cells A1 '12345678901234 (note the apostrophe) in cells C1 the formula =A1/2 give the correct result (61728394506172.5).

If you want to use the value in a function then using a "do nothing" arithmetic function first will get it to work (multiply or divide by 1, add or subtract zero).

Using the formula =SUM(A1, A2,....) doesn't work as Excel sees A1 as text but =SUM(A1*1, A2,....) does work as the arithmetic operator forces the text number to be treated as a normal number. Note this won't work if you want to sum a range.

The display of cell A1 will not be ######### but will work like any other text entry, and spill over into the next cell if it is blank or be truncated if not blank.

I can't vouch for this working in all functions - this really would require extensive testing.
awyatt    17 Nov 2014, 17:50
Vicki: Sounds like the column that shows the "spill over" is formatted as text. Text automatically spills over to the next column, as long as there is nothing in it. If the column is formatted as anything other than text, then you get the "####" for numeric values that are too wide for the column.

Short story: If you want to keep the numbers as numbers (meaning you want to use them in other formulas and such), then you'll need to widen the column.

Vicki    17 Nov 2014, 17:25
Hi, can you help me with this problem?
 I have a column formatted not to wrap.
 I previously entered 12-digit numbers in the cells, which exceed the width of the column.
 Those numbers show, bleeding as they should into the next (empty) column.
 Now, when I put the same type of numbers in other cells in the same column, hash ### signs are shown.
 I have tried copy/pasting the formatting from the cells which show correctly. That does not fix it.
 I have tried copy/pasting the entire contents of the cell which shows correctly. It displays correctly in the target cell - until edited, then the hash ### signs reappear.

This is driving me completely nuts. Is there some code just telling excel NEVER to put # in? Who wants the stupid things!

At least, can you please provide a specific solution as to how to show these numbers? Without widening the column? I have a lot of columns and if I widen them I cannot see what I need to see in the spreadsheet
Barry Kruse    30 Aug 2014, 15:43
Another thing that sometimes causes this is if the cell has been indented. This is hard to see in a numeric cell because it's right-justified, but it's easy enough to check in the format dialog box.
BjM    29 Aug 2014, 17:25
If ###### prints in the cell instead of the displayed value in the app, change your print drivers from PCL to PS.
IS    12 Aug 2014, 09:02
I am using Excel 2010. I have a cell that contains only text with just over 300 characters. It had been displaying fine at around 250 characters, but after adding around 60 characters it now displays all #s across the cell.

This is true even when I change the format to "General," the supposed 'fix' I keep seeing everywhere for this problem.

Please help.
Nosiku     03 Jun 2014, 10:27
on the general formats for dates and time the date appears as a series of hash totals
Abd    21 Apr 2014, 23:32
Thank you very much. I was very fraustrated. Not even MS employees were able to help me. I had lots of dates on my excel file, but if I zoomed out to see more content a page then I would see # # # # marks. Once I zoomed in, then the contents would show. This article was very helpful. All I did was to increase the width of the cells and everything seems to normal. Again, thank you very much.
Gary    22 Oct 2013, 21:02
In my case everything displays fine in Excel and print preview, but when it actually prints out it's all just ### in half the cells. Any fix for this?

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