Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Excel versions: 2007, 2010, 2013, and 2016. 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: Relative References to Cells in Other Workbooks.

Relative References to Cells in Other Workbooks

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated October 29, 2016)

When Stephen is creating a formula and refers to a cell in another worksheet in the same workbook, the reference is always relative (A1). However, when he refers to a cell in another workbook, the reference is always absolute ($A$1). Stephen wonders if there is a way of getting this to be automatically relative (A1) without having to go into the cell and press F4 three times.

The typical way to deal with this situation is to simply edit the reference in the formula, as you are effectively doing. There are, however, two other ways that you can approach this problem, if you desire.

The first idea is to simply create all your formulas, but leave the absolute references in place. Then, as a "final" step, use Find and Replace to get rid of the dollar signs in the formulas. All you need to do is follow these steps:

  1. Select the cells that have the formulas in them.
  2. Press Ctrl+H. Excel displays the Replace tab of the Find and Replace dialog box. (See Figure 1.)
  3. Figure 1. The Replace tab of the Find and Replace dialog box.

  4. In the Find What box, enter a single dollar sign.
  5. Make sure the Replace With box is empty.
  6. Click Replace All.

That's it; all the dollar signs in the selected cells are deleted, leaving relative references, as desired. If you have some absolute references in those cells that you want to remain, then you should use the controls in the Find and Replace dialog box to step through each instance and do the replacement, as desired.

The second idea is quite novel, really. If your references are all to the same worksheet in the external workbook, then follow these general steps:

  1. Move the target worksheet to the workbook that will contain the formulas. (Actually move it, don't just copy it.)
  2. Create your formulas. Since the target worksheet is now within the same workbook as your formula, the references in those formulas will be relative, by default.
  3. Save your workbook.
  4. Move the target worksheet (the one you moved in step 1) back to its original workbook.

What happens with these steps is that when you move the worksheet back to its original workbook, Excel updates the first part of the formula references to include the information about the external workbook. It does not, however, change the cell references in those formulas from relative to absolute.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (11226) applies to Microsoft Excel 2007, 2010, 2013, and 2016. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Excel here: Relative References to Cells in Other Workbooks.

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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