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: Selecting Random Names.

Selecting Random Names

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated August 18, 2018)

2

A common task for many people is to pick a number of random names from a large list. For instance, you may be running a contest for your community, and you have 1,000 people that have entered. With their names in each row of a table, you may be wondering how to select a certain number of the names randomly.

As is often the case with Excel, there are a number of different approaches you can take. Each approach examined in this tip assumes that the names you need to select from are listed in cells A1 through A1000. Of course, your range of names could be shorter or longer, but the point is that they are in contiguous cells in column A. The examples also assume that you need to select 15 names at random from the list.

The first approach is to use the INDEX function. Enter the following formula in cells B1:B15:

=INDEX(A:A,INT((RAND()*1000)+1),1)

A similar formula uses the OFFSET function:

=OFFSET($A$1,ROUNDUP(RAND()*1000,0),0,1,1)

It is possible, but not probable, that you will get the same name twice in the resulting list. (The improbability comes because of the size of the original list. The larger the list, the less probable there will be duplicates in the extracted list.) If you do get a duplicate name, then simply force a recalculation of your worksheet by pressing F9. Each time you recalculate, the list of extracted names is regenerated.

Another potential approach requires the use of multiple columns. Simply follow these steps:

  1. Enter =RAND() in cell B1.
  2. Enter the following formula in cell C1:
  3.      =RANK(B1,$B$1:$B$1000)
    
  4. Select the range B1:C1, and fill down to row 1000.
  5. Select the range B1:C1000.
  6. Press Ctrl+C to copy the range to the Clipboard.
  7. Display the Home tab of the ribbon.
  8. Click the down-arrow under the Paste tool and then select Paste Special. Excel displays the Paste Special dialog box. (See Figure 1.)
  9. Figure 1. The Paste Special dialog box.

  10. Make sure the Values radio button is selected.
  11. Click on OK. You now have static values in B1:C1000, which means they won't change every time the worksheet is recalculated.
  12. Select a cell in column C.
  13. Display the Data tab of the ribbon.
  14. Click the Sort tool. Excel display the Sort dialog box. (See Figure 2.)
  15. Figure 2. The Sort dialog box.

  16. Click on OK. The table (range A1:C1000) is sorted according to the values in column C.

The result is that column C now contains a ranking of all the random numbers in column B. The first 15 rows contain your random names.

In this approach you could also have left out column C completely and simply sorted your list based on the static random values in column B. Again, the top 15 would be your random names.

Of course, there are any number of macro solutions you could use for this problem. The coding of any macro will be similar, relying on VBA's RND function to generate random numbers. Of all the possible macro solutions, perhaps the following is the most unique and offers some advantages not available with the workbook solutions discussed so far:

Sub GetRandom()
    Dim TempDO As Variant
    Dim iRows As Integer
    Dim iCols As Integer
    Dim iBegRow As Integer
    Dim iBegCol As Integer
    Dim sCells As String
    Dim J As Integer
    Dim iWantRow As Integer

    Set TempDO = New DataObject

    iRows = Selection.Rows.Count
    iCols = Selection.Columns.Count
    iBegRow = Selection.Row
    iBegCol = Selection.Column

    If iRows < 16 Or iCols > 1 Then
        MsgBox "Too few rows or too many columns"
    Else
        Randomize Timer
        sCells = ""
        For J = 1 To 15
            iWantRow = Int(Rnd() * iRows) + iBegRow
            sCells = sCells & Cells(iWantRow, iBegCol) & vbCrLf
        Next J
        TempDO.SetText sCells
        TempDO.PutInClipboard
    End If
End Sub

You should note that this macro defines—right after the variables are declared—a new DataObject and assigns it to the TempDO variable. If the macro bombs out on this line of code, it simply means that you need to tell VBA to reference the proper library:

  1. In the VBA Editor, choose References from the Tools menu. VBA displays the References dialog box. (See Figure 3.)
  2. Figure 3. The References dialog box.

  3. Scroll through the list of references until you see one called Microsoft Forms Object Library. (There may be a version number included in the reference name, such as Microsoft Forms 2.0 Object Library.)
  4. Make sure the check box to the left of the object library is selected.
  5. Click on OK.

In order to use the macro, just select the names from which you want to select the 15 random names. In the examples thus far, you would select the range A1:A1000. The macro then pulls 15 names at random from the cells, and puts them in the Clipboard. When you run the macro, you can then paste the contents of the Clipboard where ever you want. Every time the macro is run, a different group of 15 is selected.

Note:

If you would like to know how to use the macros described on this page (or on any other page on the ExcelTips sites), I've prepared a special page that includes helpful information. Click here to open that special page in a new browser tab.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (12475) 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: Selecting Random 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

Entering a Page Break from the Keyboard

Need to force Word to move text to the top of the next page? It's easy when you use the keyboard shortcut for a page break.

Discover More

Inserting the Current Month

Need to add the name of the current month to your document? Word includes a field that can make the addition easy, and it ...

Discover More

Understanding Subroutines

The heart of creating powerful programs in VBA is to understand how to create subroutines. These structures allow you to ...

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)

Using a Week Number as One Criterion in a Formula

The SUMIFS function can be quite powerful in conditionally summing information based on criteria you specify. This tip ...

Discover More

The EDATE Function

Want to figure a date a certain number of months in the future or past? The EDATE function may be just what you need for ...

Discover More

Displaying Letter Grades

Grading in schools is often done using numeric values. However, you may want to change those numeric values into letter ...

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 3 + 4?

2018-08-18 11:19:37

J. B. Orris

In the second example I don't see any purpose in using the RANK function nor do I see any reason to create static values for the random numbers. Just put =RAND() in B1:B1000 and sort column B. The first 15 (or any contiguous 15) cells in column A will be a random sample of 15. I call the technique "shuffling". I have used this for years and it certainly seems to work. If there is something wrong with it, I would be interested in your thoughts.

Column B will not appear to be sorted because the random numbers will be recalculated immediately after the sort.

If you want column A back in its original sequence, do an immediate UnDo or create a sequence column prior to sorting.


2018-08-18 05:11:13

Andy

Another method is to use the sampling tool which is part of the Analysis ToolPak.

There are instructions with screenshots at https://www.sageintelligence.com/tips-and-tricks/excel-tips-tricks/2016/02/sampling-analysis-tool/.

The article says it works for Excel 2007, 2010 and 2013 but I just tried it in Excel 365 and it worked fine.

It does require you to insert a new column next to the names and put numbers in that column. These could just be 1, 2, 3 ... . The add-in will then select the relevant numbers from that list.

You can then VLOOKUP to get the rest of the information from the selected rows if needed.


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.