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: Understanding Auditing.

Understanding Auditing

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated October 6, 2023)
This tip applies to Excel 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Excel in Microsoft 365


Auditing is the process of analyzing the contents and formulas in a worksheet to make sure they are correct. Excel provides several tools that make auditing as painless as possible. Even so, auditing can be difficult and tedious work if your worksheet is large, complex, or poorly put together.

Excel uses some specific terminology that refers to the concepts involved in auditing, namely precedents and dependents. Precedents are those cells on which a formula is based. Thus, if cell A5 contains the formula =A3 + A4, then both A3 and A4 are precedents for cell A5. Dependents are the reverse of precedents. Thus, in this example, cell A5 is a dependent of cells A3 and A4.

You can further break down the distinction by having direct and indirect relationships. In the previous example, cell A5 is actually a direct dependent of (it directly depends on) cells A3 and A4. Likewise, A3 and A4 are direct precedents for cell A5. Suppose, however, that cell A6 contained the formula =A5 * 1.05. As you might imagine, cell A6 is a direct dependent of cell A5, but it is also an indirect dependent of cells A3 and A4. Similarly, A5 is a direct precedent of A6, and A3 and A4 are indirect precedents. It is possible to have many different levels of indirect precedents in a worksheet.

The tools that Excel provides to perform auditing tasks are available on the Formulas tab of the ribbon. (The tools are in the Formula Auditing group.)

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (8565) 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: Understanding Auditing.

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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