Microsoft Excel has become a critical tool for business. It’s safe to say that we all know the basics of Excel and are comfortable with what Excel can do. However, one thing that makes people uncomfortable with Excel is the confusing error messages.
While most of us are comfortable with Excel, there are many times when we have had an error pop up that is more or less confusing. Let’s face it, when we see “!#%&” characters many of us are at a loss. Here are some of the most common errors you come across in Excel, what they mean, and how to fix them.
This is one of the most common errors, with the # sign filling the cell. This error means that you have entered data in the cell that is longer than the cell’s size. For example, 1234567890 will show up as ##### if that column is not wide enough to fit all those numbers. This error will also show up when you have formatted a negative number as a date.
To fix this error, simply re-size the column (A, B, C, etc.) by clicking the edge of the column and dragging to the right to make larger. Or check to see if you have a negative number that is formatted as a date, and if so format the cell as a negative number instead..
This error means you have have an error in the formula or range. For example, =counif(!6:B99, “Y”) In this case, “counif” should be “countif”. Also, the “!6” should be a column letter and 6 (i.e., B6).
To fix this error, click on the cell with the error, and look at the formula in the formula bar, usually located above the spreadsheet, and correct the formula like this: =COUNTIF(A6:B99, “Y”)
If you have a formula that refers to other cells in the spreadsheet, and then you change one of those cells to data that does not compute in your formula, you will get the #REF! error. For example, if your formula for C6 is: =SUM(A1:A5, B1:B5, C1:C5) and you delete B1, you will get #REF! in C6.
The easiest fix to this is to hit: CTRL+Z, or Undo under Edit. If you made the error a long time ago and Undo does not work, then make sure all cells referenced in the formula contain valid information.
You get this error when you have entered a formula that includes the cell where you have entered the formula. For example, the formula =SUM(A2:A5) is entered into A5. Excel is essentially telling you that it is chasing its own tail, and can’t catch it.
The easiest way to fix this error is to simply click on the original cell, and remove the reference to the cell that the formula is entered in.
The Little Green Triangle in the Cell
If you see a little green triangle in the top left corner of a cell, Excel is telling you there is an error with the formula. This is useful if you aren’t sure about what the error means. If you click on the arrow, you will get an ! with Trace Error. Click this, and Excel will give you a drop-down menu with options.
What if I Can’t Find the Error?
If you are having trouble locating the error, or do not want to spend time searching for the error in a long formula, click the Formula tab and the arrow beside Error Checking. You can click either Trace Error or Circular Reference and Excel will point out the error, or provide the cell name with the error. From there, select the cell and look at the formula or data entered to determine the problem.