Failure to Look Up Values in Excel
#N/A - Lookup Failure Error
Users of the VLOOKUP, HLOOKUP or MATCH functions sometimes get an unexpected #N/A error when they attempt to look up a value within an array. This error generally indicates that the function has failed to find the lookup value within the lookup array.
But what if you can see that the matching value is present in the lookup array, but Excel still doesn't find this value?
For example, if a lookup function was used in the spreadsheet below, the user might expect the lookup value "1110004" in cell B1 to match the value "1110004" in cell E6.
If your function fails to find this match (signalled by the #N/A error), this may be because Excel does not consider the two values to be exactly equal. You can test for this problem via the following steps:
Step No. 1
First, check for equality between the cells that you believe should match.
In the example above you would need to test if Excel considers the contents of cells B1 and E6 to be truly equal. This can be tested by typing the following formula into any free Excel cell:
If Excel considers the contents of cells B1 and E6 to be truly equal, this formula will evaluate to TRUE. In this case you need to check that you have input your original Lookup or Match function correctly.
If the formula evaluates to FALSE, however, this tells you that the cause of your error is that the contents of cells B1 and E6 are not truly equal.
Step No. 2
If the above test returns FALSE (i.e. the cells that you expect to match are not truly equal), you need to find out why this is. The reason is likely to be one of the following:
Possible Reason No. 1
You may have unseen characters, such as spaces, at the start or end of either the value you are looking up, or in the cells of your lookup array. These characters cause the lookup value and the 'matching' member of the lookup array to have different values.
In this case, the solution is to remove any additional characters from the cells. This can be done manually, but if you want to change several cells, it may be faster to use the Excel Trim function, as follows:
- Create a new column next to the one with the additional spaces in it.
- Use the Trim function in your new column, to get rid of extra spaces.
(e.g. if the original data is in cell E2, the function =TRIM(E2) removes any leading or trailing spaces).
- Copy the Trim function down the entire column of values.
- Copy the contents of the new column and paste the values only into the original column, using paste->special->values.
- Delete the column containing the Trim function.
Note that the Trim function removes trailing space characters from the start and end of a text string. However, if you have other unseen characters, you may need to carry out the above steps using the Excel Clean function instead of (or as well as) the Trim function.
Possible Reason No. 2
The contents of the cells that are being compared may have different data types. For example, the cell containing the lookup value may be stored as a number, whereas the values in the lookup array may be stored as text (even though they may look like numbers).
One of the easiest ways to quickly identify if a value in a cell is a text value is to use the Excel ISTEXT function. I.e. for the example above, to check if cell B1 is actually a text value, type the following into any available cell:
Then check the contents of cell E6 by typing the following into any available cell:
The ISTEXT function returns TRUE if the supplied cell contains a text value or FALSE otherwise. Therefore, if the two above formulas return different results, you know that the contents of cells B1 and E6 have different data types.
Force both sets of data to have the same type. For example, if you want both sets of values to be stored as text, you could convert the non-text data to text, using Excel's Text To Columns tool:
- Use the mouse to select the cells you want to convert to text (this must be done one column at a time).
From the Data tab on the Excel ribbon, select the Text to Columns option.This will bring up the 'Text to Columns' dialog box.
- Within the 'Text to Columns' dialog box, make sure the Delimited option is selected and click next.
- Make sure all the delimiter options are unselected and then click next again.
- You should now be offered a selection of Column Data Formats. Select Text and click the Finish button.
The data in your selected cells should now be stored as text within Excel and so your function should be able to 'look up' the matching value.
Note that you could, instead, have chosen to convert both sets of data to numbers. To do this, you would simply select the column data format General in the Text To Columns tool.
See the Convert Number To Text and Convert Text To Number pages for more ways to convert between Excel's number and text data types.