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Examples and videos show how to use a VLOOKUP formula to pull data from the master table. Troubleshoot VLOOKUP when things go wrong.
- Select a Location for a Lookup Table
- Create a Lookup table
- VLOOKUP Function Arguments
- Create a VLOOKUP formula
- Create a VLOOKUP formula for a range of values
- Combine IF and VLOOKUP
- Combine IFERROR and VLOOKUP
- VLOOKUP for Combined Values
- Troubleshoot the VLOOKUP formula
- Download the Sample Files
You can watch the steps for creating this formula in the Product Price VLOOKUP video, show below. The written instructions are below the video.
It's a good idea to store each lookup table on a separate worksheet in the workbook. Then, as you add and delete rows in the lookup tables, you won't accidentally add or delete rows in any other table.
In this example, the lookup table is on a sheet named Products.
Lookup formulas can work vertically, looking for values down a column, or they can work horizontally, looking for values across a row. In this example, the information will be stored vertically, with values down a column, and later we'll use a VLookup formula to do a vertical lookup.
- Enter the headings in the first row
- The first column should contain the unique key values on which you will base the lookup. In this example, you can find the price for a specific product code.
- If you have other data on the worksheet, leave at least one blank row at the bottom of the table, and one blank column at the right of the table, to separate the lookup table from the other data.
Note: To make it easier to refer to the table, you can name the range. There are instructions here: Naming a Range
The VLOOKUP function has four arguments:
- lookup_value: What value do you want to look up? In this example, the product code is in cell A7, and you want to find its product name.
- table_array: Where is the lookup table? If you use an absolute reference ($A$2:$C$5), instead of a relative reference (A2:C5), it will be easier to copy to formula to other cells. Or, name the lookup table, and refer to it by name.
- col_index_num: Which column has the value you want returned? In this example, the product names are in the second column of the lookup table.
- [range_lookup]: Do you want an exact match? Is an approximate match okay?
If you use TRUE as the last argument, or omit the last argument, an approximate match can be returned. This example has FALSE as the last argument, so if the product code is not found, the result will be #N/A. (Note: Excel is rather forgiving, and will accept 0 instead of FALSE, and 1 instead of TRUE.)
Once you have created the lookup table, you can create other formulas in the workbook, and pull information from the product list. For example, to prepare an invoice, you can enter a product code, and formulas will get the product name or price from the product table.
In this example, the invoice is created on a sheet named Invoice. The VLOOKUP formula should find an exact match for the product code, and return the product name.
To create the VLOOKUP formula that calculates the product price, follow these steps:
- Select the Invoice sheet
- Enter product code A23 in cell A7
- In cell B7, start the VLOOKUP formula:
- Click on cell A7 to enter its reference.
- Type a comma, to end the first argument
- Select the Products sheet
- Select cells A2:C5 (the product list)
- Press the F4 key, to change the cell references to absolute. The formula should now look like this:
- Type a comma to end the second argument.
- Type a 2, which is the column in the lookup table that contains the Product name.
- Type a comma to end the third argument.
- Type FALSE, to specify that an exact match for the product code is found, and add the closing bracket.
- The formula should now look like this:
- Press the Enter key to complete the formula. The product name will be displayed.
In some situations, an approximate match is preferred, so several values will return the same result. For example, when grading student papers, all papers with a grade of 85 or over should receive an A grade.
To view the steps for creating this formula, please watch the VLOOKUP video shown below. The written instructions are below the video.
In this example, the lookup table is created on a sheet named Grades. To create the lookup table, enter the minimum score for each grade in column A. Enter the matching Grade in column B. Sort the Scores in Ascending order.
Cells A2:B6 were named GradeList.
The scores are entered on a sheet named Report Card, where a VLOOKUP formula calculates the grade.
- On the Report Card sheet, in cell B4, enter the score 77.
- In cell C4, enter the VLOOKUP formula:
- Press the Enter key, and the grade for English -- B -- is returned.
You can use an IF formula with a VLookup formula, to return exact values if found, and an empty string if not found.
To see the steps for setting up the IF and VLOOKUP formula, you can watch this short video. The written instructions are below the video.
To hide errors by combining IF with VLOOKUP, follow these steps:
- On the Invoice sheet, in cell A8, enter the product code A28. If the VLookup formula in cell B8 has FALSE as the fourth argument, the result is #N/A, because there is no exact match for the product code in the lookup table.
- Wrap the VLookup formula with an IF formula (in this example the product list has been named), using the ISNA function to check for an #N/A error:
- Press the Enter key, and cell appears blank. Because no exact match was found, the VLookup formula returned an #N/A, so the ISNA function result is TRUE. The IF formula converted this to an empty string.
If the lookup table contains any blank cells, a VLOOKUP formula will return a zero, instead of a blank cell. You can use nested IFs to handle the #N/A results, and the empty cell results. For example:
Thanks to Chip Pearson for suggesting this formula.
In Excel 2007, a new function, IFERROR, was introduced. You could use an IFERROR formula with VLookup to check several tables for a value, and return the related information when found. In this example, three regions, West, East and Central, have order sheets. On each sheet is a named range -- OrdersW, OrdersE and OrdersC.
On a sheet named Orders, you can enter an Order ID, then use a VLOOKUP with IFERROR to check each named range, and view the information about the selected order.
- On the Order sheet, in cell B6, enter a 4 as the OrderID. That order was placed in the Central region.
- To simply check the East region's table, the VLOOKUP formula in cell C6 would be:
- Press the Enter key, and the VLOOKUP formula returns an #N/A, because Order ID 4 is not in the East regions order table.
- Because an order could have been placed in any of the three regions, you need a formula that will check each table.
If the order ID is not found in the first table, the formula should check second table. If the order ID is not in the second table, it should check the third table. If the order ID isn't in the third table, then a "Not Found" message should appear in the cell.
- The IFERROR formula lets you check a value, then specify what to do if an error is found. If you use IFERROR with the existing formula, you can show "Not Found", instead of the #N/A error:
- To check all three tables, you can next IFERROR and VLOOKUP formulas:
IFERROR(VLOOKUP(B6,OrdersW,2,FALSE), IFERROR(VLOOKUP(B6,OrdersC,2,FALSE),"Not Found")))
This checks the OrdersE table and if an error is found, checks OrdersW table, then OrdersC. If the OrderID is not found in any of the three tables, the Not Found message is shown in the cell.
You can also check multiple tables in older versions of Excel, where IFERROR is not available, using a longer formula:
In some tables, there might not be unique values any column in the lookup table. For example, in the table shown below, Jacket is listed twice in column A. However, there is only one record for each jacket and size combination -- Jacket Medium in row 4 and Jacket Large in row 5.
If you need to find the price for a large jacket, a VLOOKUP based only on column A would return the price for the first jacket listed (Medium). You would be underpricing the jacket -- selling it for 60.00, instead of 65.00.
To create unique lookup values, you can insert a new column at the left side of the table, and use a formula to combine the product and size. In cell A2, the formula combines the value in B2 and the pipe character and the value in C2.
=B2 & "|" &C2
Copy that formula down to the last row of data, so each row has a unique value in column A.
Note: Instead of the pipe character, you could use another character that isn't included in your data.
Then, in a VLOOKUP formula, combine the product and size as the Lookup_value. In cell H1, the formula combines the value in F1 and the pipe character and the value in G1.
=VLOOKUP(F1 & "|" &G1,$A$2:$D$5,4,FALSE)
Note: The price is now in column 4, instead of column 3.
Your VLOOKUP formula may return an #N/A, even though the value you're looking for appears to be in the lookup table.
Text vs. Number
A common cause for this error is that one of the values is a number, and the other is text. For example, the lookup table may contain '123 (text), and the value to look up is 123 (a number).
If possible, convert the text to numbers, using one of the methods shown here:
Convert Text to Numbers
If you can't convert the data, you can convert the lookup value within the VLOOKUP formula:
Lookup values are Text, and the table contains Numbers
If the lookup table contains numbers, and the value to look up is text, use a formula similar to the following:
The double unary (--) converts text to a number, and will work correctly even if the lookup values are numbers.
Lookup values are Numbers, and the table contains Text
If the lookup table contains text, and the value to look up is numeric, use a formula similar to the following:
=VLOOKUP(A7 & ""),Products!$A$2:$C$5,3,FALSE)
The TEXT function converts a number to text, and will work correctly even if the lookup values are text. In the first example, the & operator creates a text string from an unformatted number. In the second example, a number formatted with leading zeros (e.g. 00123) would match a text "number" with leading zeros.
To see the steps for fixing the VLOOKUP problem when the lookup table has text values, watch this short video tutorial.
Spaces in one value, and not the other
Another potential cause for no matching value being found is a difference in spaces. One of the values may contain leading spaces (or trailing, or embedded spaces), and the other doesn't. To test the values, you can use the LEN function, to check the length of each value.
For example: =LEN(A7) will return the number of characters in cell A7. It should be equal to the number of characters in the matching cell in the lookup table.
If possible, remove the unnecessary spaces, and the VLOOKUP formula should work correctly. If you can't remove the spaces, use the TRIM function in the VLOOKUP, to remove leading, trailing or duplicate spaces. For example:
Fix Problems With SUBSTITUTE and TRIM
If TRIM function alone doesn't solve the problem, you can try adding the SUBSTITUTE function, to remove unwanted characters. There is an example on the Contextures blog: Clean Excel Data With TRIM and SUBSTITUTE
CLEAN the Data
Another way to fix VLOOKUP problems is with the CLEAN function, which can remove some unwanted characters from the text. There is more information on the CLEAN function in this Contextures blog post: 30 Excel Functions in 30 Days: 29 – CLEAN
HTML characters in one value, and not the other
If you copied data from a web page, it may contain non-breaking space ( ) characters. David McRitchie has written a macro to remove them, along with other spaces characters -- http://www.mvps.org/dmcritchie/excel/join.htm#trimall
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More Function Tutorials
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- MIN / MAX
- SHEET and SHEETS
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Last updated: March 31, 2015 10:52 AM