Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Excel versions: 2007 and 2010. 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: Dealing with Long Formulas.

Dealing with Long Formulas

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated March 31, 2015)

12

Anyone who has been using Excel for any length of time knows that some formulas can get quite long. Excel handles them—as long as they are constructed correctly—but they can be a bear for humans to understand. Even after you develop your own formulas, you may have trouble understanding them weeks or months later.

One way to make formulas a bit easier to understand is to use Alt+Enter in the middle of the formula to "format" how it appears on the screen. Consider, for instance, the following long formula:

=+IF($A2=0,0,IF($B2<4264,0,IF(AND($B2>=4264,$B2<=4895),
(-22.31*$C2/365),IF(AND($B2>=4895,$B2<=32760),($B2*0.093-
476.89)*$C2/365,IF($B2>32760,($B2*0.128-1623.49)*$C2/365)))))

This formula could also be written in the following manner, with Alt+Enter being pressed at the end of each line in the formula:

=+IF($A1=0,0,
IF($B1<4264,0,
IF(AND($B1>=4264,$B1<=4895),(-22.31*$C1/365),
IF(AND($B1>=4895,$B1<=32760),($B1*0.093-476.89)*$C1/365,
IF($B1>32760,($B1*0.128-1623.49)*$C1/365)))))

Now, the broken-up formula appears on five lines, even though it all appears in a single cell. The broken-up formula works just as if it were all on one line.

In addition, if you copy the complete broken-up formula from the Formula bar and paste it into a worksheet, each line in the formula is pasted into a different cell, making it easy to test each part. This is much quicker than copying and pasting parts of the original formula.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (11251) applies to Microsoft Excel 2007 and 2010. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Excel here: Dealing with Long Formulas.

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

Copying Form Field Contents

Are you developing a form with Word? In some instances it is advantageous to copy whatever is entered in a form field to ...

Discover More

Shortcut to Return to Document Text

When you are done typing a footnote or endnote in your document, you may want a way to return to the main document text ...

Discover More

Applying Formatting in Lists

If you want to change the formatting applied to numbers or bullets in your lists, you'll appreciate the information in this ...

Discover More

Professional Development Guidance! Four world-class developers offer start-to-finish guidance for building powerful, robust, and secure applications with Excel. The authors show how to consistently make the right design decisions and make the most of Excel's powerful features. Check out Professional Excel Development today!

More ExcelTips (ribbon)

Using a Formula to Replace Spaces with Dashes

If you need a formula to change spaces to some other character, the SUBSTITUTE function fits the bill. Here's how to use it.

Discover More

Shortcut for Viewing Formulas

If you need to switch between viewing formulas and viewing the results of those formulas, you'll love the keyboard shortcut ...

Discover More

Locating a Single-Occurrence Value in a Column

Given a range of cells containing values, you may have a need to find the first value in the range that is unique. This tip ...

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}] in your comment text. You’ll be prompted to upload your image when you submit the comment. Maximum image size is 8Mpixels. 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 6 - 4?

2015-04-01 11:20:53

HECTOR ENRIQUE POLLA

You can also paint part of a formula, as an if, and pres F9, excel return de value of this part of de formula in the formula bar. Then press scape, and excel returns the formula, if you don´t, you get the result en the formula.


2015-04-01 10:49:13

Gary Lundblad

That is great Chuck!

Thank you!

Gary


2015-03-31 12:33:07

Dave O

This is a great tip! Simple but great. I can see that it will save time on long formulas...starting today.


2015-03-31 11:45:56

Chuck Trese

Gary,
These two (numeric) formulas give identical results:
=SUM(B12:B15)
=SUM(B12:B15) +N("explanation text here")

Also, these two (text) formulas give identical results:
=B3&B4&B5&B6
=B3&B4&B5&B6 &T(N("explanation text here"))


2015-03-31 11:38:26

Chuck Trese

+N("explanation text") works for formulas that return numbers.

For formulas that return text, you can use &T(N("explanation text"))


2015-03-31 11:10:30

Gary Lundblad

John, are you saying that you can add explanatory text in a formula without screwing up the formula? If so, can you include an example of a formula with added explanatory text?

Thank you!

Gary


2015-03-31 10:10:11

bmultack

I have been using this method for long text entries. I have my own emailer and each paragraph of the body is in one cell. Using the Alt+Enter starts the text on a new line within the cell. Just increase the line height to accommodate the entire entry. It does not start a new line in the email, just how it looks on my screen.


2015-03-31 09:05:38

Jen T

Love this tip! I've never thought to force a line feed in a formula. Great addition by John H, too. I'm using these today.


2015-03-31 08:16:45

Surendera M. Bhanot

John H has shown a great way to to Label a long formula and it an valuable addition to the current tip. Thanks.


2015-03-31 07:30:06

John H

You can also use N("bla bla bla") eg +N("this calcs this bit") which has no effect on the formula except to add some help text


2015-03-31 07:20:59

CStripling

Now this is a great tip. I have been looking for a way to make long formulas more readable and easier to troubleshoot.


2015-03-31 07:12:50

balthamossa2b

My approach to long formulas is to not use them. It's better for readability and troubleshooting to separate a long formula in shorter ones, each in one cell.


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.