Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Excel versions: 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Excel in Microsoft 365. 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: Sorting Data Containing Merged Cells.

Sorting Data Containing Merged Cells

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated July 27, 2019)
This tip applies to Excel 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Excel in Microsoft 365


1

Excel has long included the ability to merge adjacent cells into a larger, single cell. This ability has been used by many worksheet designers to give their worksheets a polished, professional look.

There is a huge drawback to using merged cells, however: You can't sort tables that include them. If you try, you'll get a message that says, "The operation requires the merged cells to be identically sized."

The most obvious solution to the problem is to not use merged cells. Let's say, for instance, that you have a worksheet in which each "record" actually consists of two rows, and that the first column of the worksheet contains merged cells. (Each two-row record starts with two merged cells spanning the two rows. This merged cell contains a project name.)

It is better to unmerge the cells in the first column, but then you may wonder how to make the records sort properly in the worksheet; how to keep the row pairs together during a sort. You can do this by putting your project name in the first row and the project name appended with "zz" in the second row. For instance, if the first row contains "Wilburn Chemical" (the project name), then the second row could contain "Wilburn Chemicalzz". Format the second row's cell so the name doesn't show up (such as white text on a white background), and you can then successfully sort as you want to.

Another solution is to use a macro to juggle your worksheet and get the sorting done. Assuming that the merged cells are in column A (as previously described), you can use the following macro to sort the data by the contents of column A:

Sub SortList()
    Dim sAddStart As String
    Dim rng As Range
    Dim rng2 As Range
    Dim lRows As Long

    Application.ScreenUpdating = False
    sAddStart = Selection.Address
    Set rng = Range("A1").CurrentRegion

    With rng
        lRows = .Rows.Count - 1
        .Cells(1).EntireColumn.Insert
        .Cells(1).Offset(0, -1) = "Temp"
        .Cells(1).Offset(1, -1).FormulaR1C1 = _
          "=+RC[1]&"" ""&ROW()"
        .Cells(1).Offset(2, -1).FormulaR1C1 = _
          "=+R[-1]C[1]&"" ""&ROW()"
        Set rng2 = .Cells(1).Offset(1, -1).Resize(lRows, 1)
        Range(.Cells(2, 0), .Cells(3, 0)).AutoFill _
            Destination:=rng2
        rng2.Copy
        rng2.PasteSpecial Paste:=xlValues

        .Columns(1).MergeCells = False

    .CurrentRegion.Sort _
        Key1:=Range("A2"), Order1:=xlAscending, _
        Header:=xlYes, OrderCustom:=1, _
        MatchCase:=False, Orientation:=xlTopToBottom

        rng2.EntireColumn.Delete

        With Range(.Cells(2, 1), .Cells(3, 1))
            .Merge
            .Copy
            .Cells(3, 1).Resize(lRows - 2, 1). _
                PasteSpecial Paste:=xlFormats
        End With
    End With
    Application.CutCopyMode = False
    Range(sAddStart).Select
    Application.ScreenUpdating = True
End Sub

The macro inserts a temporary column, reads the items from the first column of the list, appends the row number, copies it down the temporary column, unmerges the cells, sorts the list, deletes the temporary column, and re-merges column A. (That's a lot of work just to sort a table with merged cells!)

This macro is very specific to a particular layout of your data, and therefore would need to be tested and probably modified to make sure it would work with data formatted in any other way.

Note:

If you would like to know how to use the macros described on this page (or on any other page on the ExcelTips sites), I've prepared a special page that includes helpful information. Click here to open that special page in a new browser tab.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (761) applies to Microsoft Excel 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Excel in Microsoft 365. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Excel here: Sorting Data Containing Merged Cells.

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. ...

MORE FROM ALLEN

Picking Up Where You Left Off

Need a quick way to get back to a where you previously edited? Here's a shortcut that will serve you well.

Discover More

Finding a Cell Reference

Want to know what the reference address is for a particular cell in a table? Word won't tell you, but you can use a macro ...

Discover More

Leaving Even Pages Blank

Want to print your document only on odd-numbered pages in a printout? There are a couple of things you can try, as ...

Discover More

Solve Real Business Problems Master business modeling and analysis techniques with Excel and transform data into bottom-line results. This hands-on, scenario-focused guide shows you how to use the latest Excel tools to integrate data from multiple tables. Check out Microsoft Excel 2013 Data Analysis and Business Modeling today!

More ExcelTips (ribbon)

Sorting Dates by Month

Sorting by dates is easy, and you end up with a list that is in chronological order. However, things become a bit more ...

Discover More

Incorrect Links after Sorting Hyperlinks

When you sort your data, you should always check to see if the sort was done correctly. What if sorting messes up ...

Discover More

Sorting while Ignoring Leading Characters

Want to ignore some characters at the beginning of each cell when sorting? The easiest way is to simply create other ...

Discover More
Subscribe

FREE SERVICE: Get tips like this every week in ExcelTips, a free productivity newsletter. Enter your address and click "Subscribe."

View most recent newsletter.

Comments

If you would like to add an image to your comment (not an avatar, but an image to help in making the point of your comment), include the characters [{fig}] (all 7 characters, in the sequence shown) in your comment text. You’ll be prompted to upload your image when you submit the comment. Maximum image size is 6Mpixels. Images larger than 600px wide or 1000px tall will be reduced. Up to three images may be included in a comment. All images are subject to review. Commenting privileges may be curtailed if inappropriate images are posted.

What is five more than 4?

2021-03-24 13:54:31

Pat Hughes

Why do we use "zz" to add to the 1st column 2nd row, and every other row going down when we turn off the merged cells? What does "zz" do?


This Site

Got a version of Excel that uses the ribbon interface (Excel 2007 or later)? This site is for you! If you use an earlier version of Excel, visit our ExcelTips site focusing on the menu interface.

Newest Tips
Subscribe

FREE SERVICE: Get tips like this every week in ExcelTips, a free productivity newsletter. Enter your address and click "Subscribe."

(Your e-mail address is not shared with anyone, ever.)

View the most recent newsletter.