A Puzzling Parse

BY J. CARLTON COLLINS

Q: I have noticed that when I use Excel’s Text to Columns tool to parse text data, sometimes it automatically recognizes the commas, spaces, quotes or other separators, and other times it does not. How do I make the Text to Columns tool work correctly every time?

 

A: Excel’s Text to Columns tool does not automatically recognize delimiters (commas, spaces or quotes), although it may sometimes appear to. Like an elephant, Excel’s Text to Columns simply has a good memory. Each time you use Text to Columns, it remembers your parsing criteria and sets it as the default for future parse jobs, until Excel is closed. It is likely that you used Text to Columns once, changing the delimiter criteria as necessary, then opened a second file containing the same type of delimited data. In this second case, it may have appeared that Excel automatically recognized the embedded delimiter, but it was only following the lead from the first parsing job. An example of the Convert Text to Columns Wizard dialog box is shown below.

 

Notes: There is no option for changing the default Text to Columns delimiter in Excel, but you can achieve the same effect by setting the desired delimiters in a workbook and saving it as a template or as the default workbook. You could also create macros designed to parse data according to the delimiting criteria you frequently encounter.

 

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