Don't make it count

By J. Carlton Collins

Q: My Excel 2013 PivotTables sometimes default to using the COUNT function instead of the SUM function. Is there a setting adjustment that will always make SUM the default PivotTable result?

A: When creating a PivotTable, Excel inspects each data column, and if the data contain all numbers, values, or formulas, Excel automatically uses the SUM function to summarize that column of data in the PivotTable. However, if the data being pivoted contain at least one blank cell, text, or an error value, Excel assumes the column contains text and uses the COUNT function to summarize the data. To avoid this problem, inspect and clean your source data of any non-values before you create your PivotTable. This can be achieved by overwriting any blank, text, or error values with a zero (0) to clean the data of any non-value entries.

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Caveat: Unfortunately, once you have created an initial PivotTable that returns the unwanted COUNT result, Excel remembers that column to be a text-based column for subsequent PivotTables you create, even after you have cleaned your source data of non-value entries. Therefore, if you happen to have created a PivotTable that produces the unwanted COUNT function, you will need to delete that PivotTable and then clean your source data (effectively starting over); otherwise, all subsequent PivotTables you generate will produce the same undesired COUNT summary.

J. Carlton Collins (carlton@asaresearch.com) is a technology consultant, a CPE instructor, and a JofA contributing editor.

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