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How to correct Excel formula errors

By Saurav Kharb | Published 16 March 2023

Excel is a powerful tool for managing data and performing calculations, but even the most experienced users can make mistakes especially when you’re dealing with complex calculations and large datasets.

But fear not, the way to correct Excel formula errors is not as difficult as it may seem!

Tips to correct Excel formula errors

Make use of the formula auditing tools: Excel comes with built-in tools that can be used to identify where problems in formulas originated. To access these tools, click on the “Formulas” tab in the ribbon and select “Formula Auditing”. From there, you can use the Error Checking tool to identify errors and the Trace Precedents and Trace Dependents tools to see which cells are affecting your formula.

Verify any extra or missing data: Your spreadsheet may have additional or missing data, which is a common source of calculation problems. Verify the accuracy of the data in every cell that your formula references and check for any hidden rows or columns that might have an impact on your calculations.

Check your syntax: Even a minor problem in the syntax of your formula can result in errors. Check for typos and missing brackets and commas, and make sure you’ve entered the right information according to the proper syntax for the function you’re using.

Use parentheses to clarify the order of operations: If your formula contains multiple calculations, using parentheses can help clarify the order of operations and prevent errors. For example, instead of writing “=A1+B1C1”, you can write “=A1+(B1C1)” to make it clear that the multiplication should be done before the addition.

Simplify complex formulas: If you’re working with a complex formula and can’t identify the error, try simplifying the formula by breaking it down into smaller parts. This can help you isolate the error and make it easier to correct.

Start every function with the equal sign (=): In Excel, all formulas must begin with an equal sign. This tells Excel that what follows is a formula, rather than a simple piece of text. If you forget to include the equal sign, Excel will treat your formula as plain text, which can cause errors.

Match all open and closing parentheses: For the formula to be calculated correctly, it’s crucial to pair each opening parenthesis with a closing parenthesis. Excel will display a syntax error if you fail to close a parenthesis.

Use a colon to indicate a range: Use a colon (:) to denote a range between the first and last cells in the range. For instance, you would type “=SUM(A1:A10)” in the formula bar to add the numbers in cells A1 through A10.

Put the names of any additional sheets inside single quote marks: You must enclose the worksheet name in single quotation quotes (‘) when referencing a cell or range on another worksheet. For instance, you would use the expression =Sheet2!A1 to refer to cell A1 on the ‘Sheet2’ sheet. To make sure Excel recognises that ‘Sheet2’ is a sheet name and not a component of the formula, it is crucial to use single quotation marks.

Here are some methods to correct common Excel formula errors (what, why and how): 

What is the  Error?   Why does this occur?   How to Fix it?
#REF!  Occurs when a cell reference in a formula is incorrect,  an error happens. That might take place if a referred cell is removed or relocated. Adjust the formula to refer to the proper cell or range of cells in order to correct this issue.
#DIV/0!  Occurs when a formula attempts to divide a number by zero.

Change the denominator value or determine 

if the formula should be used in the first place.

#NUM!  Occurs when a formula has improper numerical information, such as a negative value for the square root function or an out-of-range parameter. Check the input data and make the necessary formula adjustments to resolve this issue.
Circular Reference error Occurs when a formula makes a circular reference to its own cell or a collection of cells that are dependent on one another. Remove or change the circular references, or moving the formulas to different cells.
#N/A  Occurs when something can’t be found or identified. Also caused by extra space characters, misspellings, or an incomplete lookup table. Check if the data exists in your dataset  and if it is formatted correctly. 

In conclusion, correcting formula errors in Excel may seem daunting, but with the right tools and techniques, it can be a simple process. By understanding the cause of the error and taking appropriate action, you can ensure the accuracy of your data and calculations. So don’t be afraid to dive in and fix those formula errors!

If you still need more help to correct Excel formula errors, use our free Error Spotter tool. It’s a part of our AI Excel toolkit that’s designed to give you quick answers to all your Excel problems. All you have to do is sign up (it’s free)!