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: Returning Item Codes Instead of Item Names.

Returning Item Codes Instead of Item Names

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated June 17, 2017)

1

Alan can use data validation to create a drop-down list of valid choices for a cell. However, what he actually needs is more complex. He has a large number of item names with associated item codes. In cell B2 he can create a data validation list that shows all the item names (agitator, motor, pump, tank, etc.). The user can then choose one of these. When he references cell B2 elsewhere, however, he wants the item code—not the item name—returned by the reference. Thus, the reference would return A, M, P, TK, etc. instead of agitator, motor, pump, tank, etc.

There is no direct way to do this in Excel. The reason is because data validation lists are set up to include only a single-dimensional list of items. This makes it easy for the list to contain your item names. However, you can expand how you use the data validation list a bit to get what you want. Follow these steps:

  1. Someplace to the right of your worksheet data, set up a data table. This table will contain your item names and, to the right of each item name, the item code associated with that name.
  2. Select the cells that contain your item names. (Don't select the item codes, just the names.)
  3. Display the Formulas tab of the ribbon.
  4. Click the Define Name tool in the Defined Names group. Excel displays the New Name dialog box. (See Figure 1.)
  5. Figure 1. The New Name dialog box.

  6. In the Name box, enter a descriptive name, such as ItemNames.
  7. Click OK to add the name and close the dialog box.
  8. Select cell B2 (the cell where you want your validation list).
  9. Display the Data tab of the ribbon.
  10. Click the Data Validation tool in the Data Tools group. Excel displays the Data Validation dialog box. (See Figure 2.)
  11. Figure 2. The Data Validation dialog box.

  12. Using the Allow drop-down list, choose List.
  13. In the Source box, enter an equal sign followed by the name you defined in step 5 (such as =ItemNames).
  14. Click OK.

With these steps done, people can still use the data validation drop-down list to select valid item names. What you now need to do is reference the item code from the data table you set up in step 1. You can do that with a formula such as this:

=VLOOKUP(B2,OFFSET(Itemlist,0,0,,2),2,FALSE)

This formula can be used on its own (to put the desired item code into a cell) or it could be used within a larger formula, anyplace you would have originally referenced B2.

If, for some reason, you cannot create a data table for your item names and codes, you could approach the problem by creating an array formula:

=INDEX({"A","M","P","TK"},MATCH(B2,{"agitator","motor","pump","tank"},0))

As with all array formulas, you enter this one by pressing Ctrl+Shift+Enter. The biggest drawback to it is that it can quickly become unwieldy to keep the formula updated and there is a "viability limit" on how many pairs of codes and items you can include in the formula. (The limit is defined by formula length, so it depends on the length of your item names.) Also, this approach is good to only return the item code in another cell, rather than including it as part of a larger formula.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (12078) 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: Returning Item Codes Instead of Item Names.

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

Maintaining Formatting when Inserting Documents

Word allows you to easily insert the contents of one document into another. Doing so, however, may result in unintended ...

Discover More

Spell-Check Won't Work

Having problems making spell check work on a portion of your document? There are two primary causes for such an ...

Discover More

Rounding To the Nearest Even Integer

Do you need your numbers to be rounded to an even integer value? How you accomplish the task depends on the nature of the ...

Discover More

Solve Real Business Problems Master business modeling and analysis techniques with Excel and transform data into bottom-line results. This hands-on, scenario-focused guide shows you how to use the latest Excel tools to integrate data from multiple tables. Check out Microsoft Excel 2013 Data Analysis and Business Modeling today!

More ExcelTips (ribbon)

Calculating Combinations

The COMBIN function is used to determine the number of combinations that can be made from a group of elements. This tip ...

Discover More

Specifying a Language for the TEXT Function

You may want to use Excel to display dates using a different language than your normal one. There are a couple of ways ...

Discover More

Median of Selected Numbers

Need to find a median value in a series of values? It's easy with the MEDIAN function. What isn't as easy is to derive ...

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 more than 7?

2017-06-26 11:20:52

Gregg

I do not understand why the Offset function is used here. The standard vlookup using the table works just fine. Furthermore, I recommend staying away from volatile functions unless absolutely necessary.


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.