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## How to Write a VLOOKUP Formula That Doesn’t Fail

A lot of Excel users love VLOOKUP but many of them usually experience error-headaches for days.

I’ve been there too, I found this function very problematic, to the point of expecting some surprise after finishing the formula and pressing enter.

Should you always expect VLOOKUP errors?

You should treat the NA message as an alert rather than an error. However, you should treat it as an error when it doesn’t reflect your data. Additionally, REF, VALUE and NAME messages should be interpreted as errors as they really are.

This unnecessary frustration happens when you only focus on the frontend, you don’t care about the backend list. As a result, when NA appears, you don’t believe it. Furthermore, in the desperation to fix any problem, you change a variable that is not the cause of the crash. You are soon in the trance of a pilot who flies without radar and changes everything except the cause of the problem.

How to avoid this waste of time?

First, you should stop blaming yourself for VLOOKUP errors because you are uniquely responsible for such mistakes.

Yes you are, even if the backend list was not produced by you. You are responsible for controlling the source of the data and, in the worst case, fixing the problems once you have the poor quality inventory in your hands.

Don’t worry, here you’ll get a practical checklist to master VLOOKUP.

Lookups should be viewed as a different type of Excel function, in the sense that they pull data from a table or backend list. As a result, adopting a just-fronted mindset is poor quality practice, hindering you from moving forward with your analysis.

A correct frontend formula with a poor quality table array will produce incorrect results or unnecessary errors.

Follow these sets of checks for the backend and frontend aspects of VLOOKUP so you can write better formulas, stop getting unnecessary errors and devote more time to analysis.

Actions taken in the backend

Pay special attention to listings from anywhere and anyone, they usually don’t care about duplicates, misspellings, leading and trailing extra spaces, etc.

- Locate the Lookup Index column on the left.
- Free the index column from duplicates.
- Free the index column from odd characters. For example: “ for inches, m for meters, %, $, extra commas, etc. Use CLEAN, TRIM, Text to Column.
- Find the list on the lookup sheet (recommended).
- Format the index column correctly. Date, %, etc. Be careful when you look at the numbers, not the number that Excel actually stores and uses in the calculation.
- VLOOKUP Sort index column for approximate match (range_lookup= 1 or omitted).
- Check that an external lookup book is referenced. If the list is located in an external workbook.

Steps to take on the Frontend

Relax, once you follow the above guidelines things will flow, but you need to keep things right here as well.

- Format the frontend cells in the same way as the backend index column. Especially on dates. Be careful about the precision shown when you use numbers.
- Check lookup_value for odd characters. Use CLEAN, TRIM, Text to column.
- Check that lookup_value is referencing the left index column.
- Use the NA trapping error formula. Use ISERROR, ISNA, IF. Now in Excel 2007 you can use IFERROR (quick). NA for VLOOKUP means the item was not found so you can use the message to show it or take some action.
- Check that the range_lookup argument is not omitted for an exact match VLOOKUP (omitted means TRUE or an approximate match).
- Check that the table_array argument is referenced correctly.
- Check that the table_array argument reference is set to absolute. You usually copy formulas down so that table_array can change in unwanted ways.
- Check that the lookup_value is entered correctly in the cell. For example: “Susan Martinez” instead of “Susan Martinez”.
- Check that text is quoted in lookup_value (when you lookup text). Excel interprets text without quotes as a named range. You will receive a NAME error.
- Check that index_col_num is not greater than the dimension of table_array. For example, specifying column 3 when the array has two columns. You will get a REF error
- Check that index_col_num is not 0 or negative. You will receive a VALUE error.
- Check that the column number is not hard coded. Be aware of this when moving, deleting, truncating columns in a lookup array. If you’re doing something like that, create a row above the field headings of the backend list, then number each column with the formula =COLUMN()-the number of left columns. Now you can refer col_index_num to the corresponding cell that contains the column number. If someone inserts a new column into the table, VLOOKUP still links to the correct column, and if someone inadvertently deletes it, you’ll know about it immediately because your VLOOKUP no longer works (REF error).

conclusion.

Unwanted VLOOKUP errors do not occur randomly. Take responsibility for preparing the backend list first, then proceed correctly to the frontend and you will stop thinking that something unknown is fighting your work.

The above guidelines are a good starting point for getting organized when writing VLOOKUP. Extracting data from your inventory will give you a boost in your productivity.

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