Formulas Don't Calculate as Formulas

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated June 1, 2013)


When you enter information into a cell, Excel needs to determine how to treat that information. Should it be considered a date? A number? As a formula? Perhaps it is text? Excel interprets your cell entry according to a fairly well-defined set of rules. The "fall-back" determination for a cell is to treat an entry as text.

You may notice something odd when entering information in a cell, however—Excel may always treat what you enter as text. For instance, you may enter a formula such as =B3 into a cell, with the expectation that the formula will be understood by Excel and the contents of cell B3 will be shown as a result of the formula. Excel, however, may simply display "=B3" in the cell, instead of the expected result.

If this happens to you, then Excel is not interpreting your cell entry as a formula, but as text. It is bypassing the normal parsing that goes on and instead jumping directly to the "fall-back" determination of the cell containing text.

This problem happens most often when the cell into which you are entering information was previously formatted as text. In other words, someone used the Number Format drop-down list (in the Number group on the Home tab of the ribbon) or the Format Cells dialog box to explicitly format the cell as Text.

An easy way to correct this situation is to perform the following steps:

  1. Select the cell that contains the formula that is being interpreted as text.
  2. Display the Home tab of the ribbon.
  3. Click the Clear tool, in the Editing group. Excel displays a few different actions you can take.
  4. Choose Clear Formats. This removes any formatting applied to the cell.
  5. Press F2. This puts the cell into edit mode.
  6. Immediately press Enter. This causes Excel to re-evaluate what is in the cell.

Your formula should now be treated as a formula instead of as text.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (3308) applies to Microsoft Excel 2007, 2010, and 2013.

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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Comments for this tip:

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What is two more than 9?

2014-06-28 12:11:25


One click solution. I run into this issue all the time. I often work with worksheets that contain columns of data formatted as text. If you insert a column to the right of a text column Excel formats that column as Text also. Enter a formula there and Excel displays the text of the formula, not the result.
I use the following macro assigned to a QAT icon. Select the offending cell and click the QAT icon. Result of formula is now displayed.

Sub Format_General()
' Format_General Macro

Selection.NumberFormat = "General"
Selection.TextToColumns Destination:=ActiveCell, DataType:=xlDelimited, _
TextQualifier:=xlDoubleQuote, ConsecutiveDelimiter:=False, Tab:=True, _
Semicolon:=False, Comma:=False, Space:=False, Other:=False, FieldInfo _
:=Array(1, 1), TrailingMinusNumbers:=True
End Sub

2013-06-13 11:36:37


Stuart, and all.

Pressing Ctrl+1 (U.S. keyboard) will bring up the same dialog box.

2013-06-03 15:08:49


This has also been my experience, Paul. Also - you can make calculations automatic or manual (turn automatic calculation on/off) in an Excel spreadsheet by going to "calculation options" in the "calculation" group on the ribbon under the "formulas" tab from 2010.

2013-06-03 12:47:12

Michelle Redford


You are correct, Excel for 2010 does have the option to turn on/off auto calculation. If you go to the fomula tab and look in the Calculation box, there is a drop down for calculation options, and one of the selections is Automatic. Hope that solves the mystery for you!!!

2013-06-02 08:13:28

Joe Marten

I use Alt+AEF

2013-06-01 11:50:42


If my formula is a macro, how do you make it auto calculate?

2013-06-01 08:58:49


can you not just press ctrl shift ~ (uk keyboard)

2013-06-01 06:43:31

Ronald Palmer

When this happens to me, I select the range and format as general.

2013-06-01 06:15:43


in older versions of Excel there used to be an option in 'Tools/Options' to turn off automatic calculation. You turn it on/off with the F9 key.
Now so far I haven't found this option in the newer versions but knowing Excel I bet it is there somewhere.
The point of course being that in this case automatic calculation may be turned off.
From my experience this used to happen either when Spread Sheets got very large and unwieldy or when there were some Macros floating around with values that were formula dependent

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