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: Fixed-Width Settings when Converting Text to Columns.

Fixed-Width Settings when Converting Text to Columns

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated October 9, 2021)
This tip applies to Excel 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Excel in Microsoft 365


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Milda needs to use Excel's Convert Text to Columns feature quite often for one of her work projects. She needs to use the fixed-width parsing in the tool, and Excel looks at the source data and suggests places where the data should be "broken." Milda finds this annoying, as Excel normally guesses wrong. She wonders if there is a way to clear all of the suggested break lines at once so she can enter the break lines manually where she wants them.

There is no way to stop Excel from guessing when trying to parse fixed-width data. There are a few things you can try, however, that may help. For instance, some people have reported better results in Excel's guesses if you format the source column with a Courier font before doing the conversion. (Courier is a monospace font and may help Excel better "see" the natural breaking points for the data.)

Another possibility is to trick Excel into thinking that it is best not to guess about breaks. Before you run the Convert Text to Columns Wizard, insert a blank row at the top of your data. In the row, put a long string of characters with no spaces. For instance, you might put in 200 X characters, with no spaces or punctuation. When you run the wizard, Excel won't be able to figure out where the breaks are in this data, so it doesn't venture any guesses. After the wizard is complete, you can then simply delete the row.

Finally, you can develop a Visual Basic routine to handle the data deconstruction for you. This is a particularly good solution if you find that your project involves working with identically formatted text all the time. You might start by using the macro recorder to record a session with the Text to Columns Wizard and see if what is recorded is a good starting place for future conversions.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (9780) 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: Fixed-Width Settings when Converting Text to Columns.

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 one more than 7?

2021-10-09 09:05:56

Roy

If you wish to use the "Insert a line/cell with a lot of X's in it and no spaces, you need to insert a minimum of TWO.

There are other problems that occur with the Import Text wizard and its abbreviated son/daughter the Text To Columns wizard. One bothersome one can be solved by inserting eight lines of data at the head of a column (well, in that column's position in eight inserted LINES, of course) of fake data crafted to fool the wizard into thinking the whole column is characterized by them.

So I suspected a single line might not work. And it did not. But 20 worked. Eight was also enough. Interestingly though, 7, 6, 5... well, all the way down to TWO lines (cells) worked. Still not the single cell when reduced to that again. But TWO inserted cells worked reliably and always.

So if a single line works for you, well, awesome. If not, DO try a second or more lines. That works nicely and lets you use the technique.

It will push you down the "Delimited" direction though, so pay attention when firing it up.

(2021: Office 365 Build 2109)


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