What's Going On Inside An Excel Formula

BY STANLEY ZAROWIN

Q. Sometimes when I’m dealing with a long, complex formula in Excel, and my answer doesn’t look right, I double-check the formula. But when a formula is very big, it’s hard to locate the error. Is there some way I could look inside the formula to see how each step is being calculated?

A. Excel has such a tool. To access it, highlight the formula you want to check and click on Formula Auditing and Evaluate Formula . Excel displays this dialog box with your formula:

Excel immediately begins to calculate the first part of the formula (the portion to the left of the underlined section). Each time you click on the Evaluate button, Excel calculates the next portion in the formula, from left to right. Thus you can look at the results calculated by each part of the formula. Don’t worry, nothing in the formula changes as you move around—only the intermediary results. When you’re finished, click on Close .

There’s also a simple version of Evaluate Formula —a way to test a formula before you commit it to a cell: Type a formula in Excel’s Formula bar (the space next to fx), for example:

But instead of pressing Enter, press F9, and you’ll get the answer right there in the Formula bar:

Now, if you add to that formula…

…and then press F9, you’ll get:

As you can see, you can build a formula in the Formula bar and see the results as you proceed.

SPONSORED REPORT

Year-end tax planning and what’s new for 2016

Practitioners need to consider several tax planning opportunities to review with their clients before the end of the year. This report offers strategies for individuals and businesses, as well as recent federal tax law changes affecting this year’s tax returns.

QUIZ

News quiz: IRS warning on cyberattacks and a change in pension rules

Once again, the IRS sounds the alarm about a threat from cyberthieves. See how much you know about this and other recent news with this short quiz.

CHECKLIST

Bolster your data defenses

As you weather the dog days of summer, it’s a good time to make sure your cybersecurity structure can stand up to the heat of external and internal threats. Here are six steps to help shore up your systems.