Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Excel versions: 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Excel in Office 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

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated October 9, 2021)

1

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 Office 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. ...

MORE FROM ALLEN

Extracting E-mail Addresses from Hyperlinks

If you have a list of hyperlinked e-mail addresses in a worksheet, you may want to extract the addresses from those ...

Discover More

Strange ATAN Results

You may use Excel's trigonometric functions to do some quick calculations, and suddenly notice that the results in your ...

Discover More

Summing a Table Column

Need to add a sum to a column of figures in a table? Word makes it relatively easy to provide the sum you need.

Discover More

Comprehensive VBA Guide Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) is the language used for writing macros in all Office programs. This complete guide shows both professionals and novices how to master VBA in order to customize the entire Office suite for their needs. Check out Mastering VBA for Office 2010 today!

More ExcelTips (ribbon)

Using Check Boxes

Check boxes, just like those used in Windows dialog boxes, can be a great addition to a worksheet. Here's how to add them ...

Discover More

Moving Subtotals

When you add subtotals to a worksheet, Excel typically places them in the same column that you are subtotaling. If you ...

Discover More

Watching Cell Values

Want to know what is happening in certain cells in your worksheet? Using the Watch Window is a great way to keep an eye ...

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 four less 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)


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.