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Relative Worksheet References when Copying

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: Relative Worksheet References when Copying.

When you copy a formula from one cell to another, Excel automatically updates any relative references within the formula based on the target that is receiving the formula. For instance, assume that cell B7 contains the following formula:

=B6+A7

If you copy this formula to cell D22, Excel automatically updates the references so they are relative to cell D22, as shown here:

=D21+C22

When you are copying formulas from one worksheet to another, and the formula contains a reference to a previous worksheet, Excel doesn't do this type of formula updating—at least not on the worksheet names. For instance, let's say you have three worksheets named January, February, and March—in that order. On the February worksheet you have the following formula:

=January!B7*1.075

If you copy this cell to the March worksheet, Excel will automatically change the B7 reference (if necessary), but it won't change the sheet name (January, which was "one less" than the sheet on which the formula first occurred) to the adjusted relative sheet name (February, which is "one less" than the sheet to which the formula is being copied).

If you have only a few worksheet references in your copied formulas, it is fairly easy to just edit the formulas so they reference the proper worksheet. The task can quickly become a nightmare, however, if you have dozens or hundreds of such references.

The solution is to do a simple search-and-replace operation in Excel, as outlined here:

  1. Copy the formulas from the February worksheet to the desired location on the March worksheet.
  2. With the March worksheet visible, press Ctrl+A. This selects all the cells in the target worksheet.
  3. Press Ctrl+H. Excel displays the Replace tab of the Find and Replace dialog box. (See Figure 1.)
  4. Figure 1. The Replace tab of the Find and Replace dialog box.

  5. In the Find What box, enter "January!" (without the quote marks).
  6. In the Replace With box, enter "February!" (without the quote marks).
  7. Click on Replace All.

The formulas in the worksheet are now updated so they refer to the proper worksheet.

Notice in steps 4 and 5 that what you are searching for and replacing it with is not the straight month names. This is done because the month names alone (January, February, etc.) could easily occur in other places in the worksheet without being part of a formula. You don't want to change these instances, so the extra characters are included to help narrow down the search.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (9869) applies to Microsoft Excel 2007, 2010, and 2013. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Excel here: Relative Worksheet References when Copying.

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