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Understanding Errors With Microsoft Excel

Microsoft Excel is one of the most widely used spreadsheet programs for business as well as personal record keeping. As those who use it often will know, Excel gives truly unique error messages that neither novices nor the experienced can immediately understand.

The first error message might be the most often encountered. If you get a row of hashtags (####), it means that the field is too narrow for the data. Simply go to the top of the column, click on one edge and drag your cursor until the column is wide enough to accommodate the data. Note that this only happens with numeric data.

  • If you use formulas a lot, you may have seen this error message:  ?Name#. When you see that, it means that Excel doesn’t recognize something in your formula. If you, for instance, wanted to add a range of numbers and typed in =SU(A2:A15), because you forgot the M in SUM, you would get ?Name# in the field where you wanted the sum to appear. Once you add the M, you should get the expected result.
  • Another error message that formula users may recognize is #REF!. This error message appears when your formula has an invalid reference. For instance, if you wanted to add ranges and you typed in =SUM(C2:C15, D2:D15, E2:E15) and then deleted column C, you would get #REF! in the field where your sum should appear. Simply undo the column deletion, and the response you want should appear.
  • Another extremely common error message is #VALUE!. If you see this error message, it means you’re trying to add a range of cells that have no numeric value. When tested, a range of cells [=SUM(B2:B15)] with only text yielded a sum of zero; however, when the range of cells was entered without the word SUM or the parentheses [=B2:B15] it yielded #VALUE!. This happened with Excel 2010. Perhaps earlier versions of Excel will give #VALUE!  as a response when you try to add a column or row of text. If you try to divide a cell with text by a cell with numbers [=QUOTIENT(B3,B5)], the #VALUE! will also come up.
  • Have you ever tried to divide by zero? If you have, then you’ve seen this: #DIV/0!. Excel will have none of it. It violates the rules of mathematics, so give it up. If you get a little green triangle in the upper left corner of a cell, this, too, indicates a problem with your formula. If you click on the green triangle, you will get a list of ways to correct the error. Again, with Excel 2010, this is not always the case. Sometimes, Excel will simply flash an error warning or it will let you know that it caught the error, corrected it and gives you the option to accept or reject the correction.

These are only some of the more common errors you could encounter when using Microsoft Excel. Microsoft offers tutorials for those who are just starting out or want to improve their skills.

Looking for help with Microsoft Excel?  Give our team of Microsoft Professionals a call and we can assist you with all your Microsoft needs.

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