Formula Shows Instead of Formula Result

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated April 5, 2024)
This tip applies to Excel 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Excel in Microsoft 365


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Steve notes that there are a few times when adding a formula to a cell in an existing worksheet (one he's worked with for quite a while) Excel ends up displaying the formula he typed instead of the result of the formula. It doesn't happen all the time, but Steve finds it quite confusing when it does.

There are a few possible reasons this may be happening. The first thing to check is that the cell isn't formatted as text. Select the problem cell and display the Home tab of the ribbon. In the Number Format drop-down list, make sure that a format other than Text is selected. After picking a different format, you'll need to "edit" the formula to force Excel to parse the formula as a formula. The easiest way is to simply press F2 and immediately press Enter; that should do it.

If your cell is not formatted as text, then it is very possible that you are suffering from "fat-finger syndrome." (Well, that's what I call it when I inadvertently hit the wrong keys.) Check your formula to make sure that it starts with an equal sign and that it doesn't have any other prefatory characters, such as a space, an apostrophe, a comma, etc. If the formula doesn't start with the equal sign as the first character, then Excel won't recognize it as a formula.

(I should note a small exception to the foregoing statement. You can also start a formula with either a plus sign or a minus sign. Those will also trigger Excel's "oh, this is a formula" button. Don't try any other prefatory characters, though—they won't work.)

Finally, it is also possible that you inadvertently instructed Excel to display formulas instead of formula results. This is done as you are typing by pressing Ctrl+`. (That last character is the accent grave; it is on the key just to the left of the 1 key and just above the Tab key.) This shortcut is a toggle; pressing it once displays formulas on the current worksheet and pressing it a second time displays the results of formulas.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (39) applies to Microsoft Excel 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Excel in Microsoft 365.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...

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What is 3 + 0?

2024-04-05 08:21:06

Chris Connor

Once in a while this happens and it was entered correctly and changing format does not help.

My workaround is to put the formula in another cell/column, see it displays correctly, and move it to the corrct cell. Its a once in 2 month frequency.
Chris


2019-07-11 11:54:07

Gary Lundblad

There is also a known issue that sometimes causes a cell or range of cells to show the formula rather than the result no matter how you try to directly change it. A workaround to fix it that I discovered is to drag another cell or range that doesn't have this problem, over the top of the problem cell(s). This has worked for me in almost every instance.

Gary


2019-07-06 21:23:08

John Mann

I just learned a new keyboard shortcut (Ctrl+`). I notice, when trying it out, that the column widths of my test worksteet expanded when displaying very simple formulae (eg =5*2 or =99*3) using far more space than needed, then contracted back to original width when displaying the results. Interesting!


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