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: Dealing with Circular References.

Dealing with Circular References

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated November 7, 2015)

A circular reference is caused by including within a formula a reference to the cell storing the formula. It often occurs when the user selects the range for a function and inadvertently includes the formula location itself. For instance, if you stored the following formula in cell A3, the result is a circular reference:

= A1 + A2 + A3

If you try to enter a circular reference, Excel alerts you to the problem by displaying a dialog box. This dialog box requests you to click OK if the circular reference was a mistake or click Cancel if it was intentional. Unfortunately many users react without carefully reading the dialog box and press Cancel or press Esc just to get rid of the dialog box. Oops! The formula returns zero and the circular reference remains in your worksheet.

In the status bar, at the bottom of the screen, Excel displays Circular References and the address of the offending formula. Every help text I have seen indicates that the address of the circular reference is listed in the status bar. This is true only if the circular reference is on the current worksheet. The Circular References notation is displayed any time a circular reference is present in any open workbook.

If you notice the Circular References notation without an accompanying address, you can spend a lot of time working through every sheet of every open workbook until you see the address. There is a faster way to find circular references, regardless of where they are. When a circular reference is in existence, you can quickly find them by using the ribbon!

Display the Formulas tab of the ribbon, click the down-arrow next to the Error Checking tool (in the Formula Auditing group), choose Circular References, and you will see a list of the circular references that Excel has detected. Click the one you want, and the cell that contains the circular reference is displayed.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (11761) 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: Dealing with Circular References.

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

Saving Personalized Copies of a Document

Need a series of documents that include an individual's name or a company name? Here's a handy little macro that will ...

Discover More

Using Excel for Timing

Excel allows you to store times in a worksheet. If you want to use Excel to time certain events, there are a couple of ...

Discover More

Controlling Date Formats in a Mail Merge

One of the data sources that Word allows you to use for your mail merges is an Excel worksheet. You may get unexpected ...

Discover More

Program Successfully in Excel! John Walkenbach's name is synonymous with excellence in deciphering complex technical topics. With this comprehensive guide, "Mr. Spreadsheet" shows how to maximize your Excel experience using professional spreadsheet application development tips from his own personal bookshelf. Check out Excel 2013 Power Programming with VBA today!

More ExcelTips (ribbon)

Referring to the Last Cell

It is not unusual to use worksheets to collect information over time. As you keep adding information to the worksheet, ...

Discover More

Calculating Statistical Values on Different-Sized Subsets of Data

Discovering different ways to analyze your data can be a challenge. Here's how to work with arbitrary subsets of a large ...

Discover More

Calculating an Expanding Square

When doing a systematic search for rescue purposes, it isn't unusual to implement what is termed an "expanding square." ...

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 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 six minus 3?

There are currently no comments for this tip. (Be the first to leave your comment—just use the simple form above!)


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.