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How to Write a VLOOKUP Formula That Doesn’t Fail
A large number of Excel users love VLOOKUP but many of them keep getting a headache for days.
I’ve been there, I used to see this task as very problematic, to the point of expecting a surprise after completing the formula and hitting Enter.
Should you expect VLOOKUP errors all the time?
You should see the NA message as a warning instead of an error. However, you should see it as an error if it doesn’t show your data. Additionally, REF, VALUE and NAME messages should be treated as errors because they actually are.
This unnecessary distraction happens when you focus only on the frontend, you don’t care about the backend. Therefore, when NA appears, you do not trust it. Moreover, by wanting to fix any problem, you are changing variables that are not the cause of the accident. Soon you’re in the trance of a pilot who flies off the radar and changes everything for no reason.
How to avoid this waste of time?
First of all, you should stop complaining about VLOOKUP errors because you are the one responsible for such errors.
Yes you, even if the backlist is not produced by you. You are responsible for controlling the source of the data and in the worst case, correcting the problems when the low-quality list is in your hands.
Don’t worry, here you’ll find a handy lookup list to override VLOOKUP.
Viewing should be seen as another type of Excel function, in the sense that they extract data from a table or backend list. As a result, adopting a forward-looking mindset is a poor practice, and will prevent you from continuing your analysis.
A correct front-end formula with a low-quality table will produce incorrect results or unwanted errors.
Follow these sets of backend and frontend VLOOKUP checks to write better formulas, stop getting unnecessary errors and spend more time analyzing.
Actions to be taken in the Backend
Pay special attention to lists that appear from a specific site and from a person, they usually do not care about repetition, incorrect spelling, leading and following additional posts, etc.
- Look for the navigation index column on the left.
- Free the reference column from duplicates.
- Free the index column from odd names. Example: ” in inches, m meters, %, $, extra commas, etc. Use CLEAN, TRIM, Text to Column.
- Search the list on the search page (Recommended).
- Format the index column correctly. Date, %, etc. Be careful when looking at numbers, the accuracy shown is not the number that Excel actually stores and uses in the calculations.
- Sort the index column in ascending order of the approximate VLOOKUP match (list_lookup= 1 or omitted).
- Check that an external directory is referenced. In case the list is placed in an external directory.
Actions to be taken on the Frontend
Relax, once you follow the guidelines above things will go well, but you have to keep things in order here too.
- Format the front cell the same way as the back reference column. Especially on dates. Be careful about the accuracy you expose when using numbers.
- Check lookup_value for unusual characters. Use CLEAN, THINK, Text to column.
- Check that lookup_value refers to the left index column.
- Use the NA capture error formula. Use SERROR, ISNA, IF. Now in Excel 2007 you can use IFERROR (quickly). NA for VLOOKUP means something not found so you can use a message to indicate this or take action.
- Lookup_argument_lookup is omitted from the correct match VLOOKUP (Omitted means TRUE or the corresponding assumption).
- Check that the table_array argument is referenced correctly.
- Check that the table_rate argument of the reference is set to absolute. You usually copy the formulas down so that the table_array changes in unwanted ways.
- Check that the lookup_value is entered correctly in the cell. Example: “Susan Martines” instead of “Susan Martinez”.
- Check that the text in lookup_value is quoted (when searching for text). Excel interprets text without quotes as a named list. You will get a NAME error.
- Check that index_col_num is not greater than the table_list limit. For example, to specify column 3 when the array has only two columns. You will get a REF error
- Check that index_col_num is not 0 or negative. You will get a VALUE error.
- Check that the column number is not coded. Be aware of this when moving, deleting, or cutting columns in a search list. If you will be doing such things, create a row above the headers of the back column, then the number of each column with the formula = COLUMN () – the number of columns on the left. Now you can reference col_index_num to the corresponding cell that contains the column number. If someone inserts a new column in the table, VLOOKUP still connects to the correct column, and if someone deletes it by mistake, then you will immediately know about it as your VLOOKUP will no longer work (REF error).
Unwanted VLOOKUP errors are not generated randomly. Take responsibility for preparing the list of the backend first, then continue correctly on the frontend and you will stop thinking that something unknown is fighting your work.
The above guidelines are a good starting point for planning when writing a VLOOKUP. You will get an increase in your productivity when you release data from your list.
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