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Limiting Input to a Format

Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Excel versions: 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. If you are using a later version (Excel 2007 or later), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for later versions of Excel, click here: Limiting Input to a Format.

As you are developing a spreadsheet, you may want to limit what users are able to put into a particular cell. For instance, you might want to make sure that entries in a cell are exactly four characters long, begin with the number 6, are followed by any digit, then by a letter, and then by any digit.

There are three ways to go about such a validation. The first, of course, is to write a macro that will check input and ensure that the entries follow the desired pattern. The way to concoct such a macro has been covered in other issues of ExcelTips.

Another method, without using macros, is to rely upon the data validation feature of Excel. If the number of valid entries is not terribly long, you might try these general steps:

  1. On a blank worksheet, construct a list of the valid entries.
  2. On the worksheet used for input, highlight the cell into which the entry will be made.
  3. Choose Validation from the Data menu. Excel displays the Data Validation dialog box. (See Figure 1.)
  4. Figure 1. The Data Validation dialog box.

  5. Using the Allow drop-down list, choose List.
  6. With the insertion point in the Source box, choose the list you put together in step 1.
  7. Click on OK.

Now, whenever someone tries to enter data that is not included in your list of acceptable values, the validation rules kick into effect and the user is forced to change the entry.

You can also use the data validation feature in a bit of a different way. If you have well-defined rules for your data entry then you can put together a formula that describes a valid entry. The following is one such formula:


Remember that this is a single formula, entered all on one line, using the following general steps:

  1. Highlight the cell into which the entry will be made. (The above formula assumes you are using cell A1. If a different cell is selected, you will need to make the appropriate reference changes to the above formula.)
  2. Choose Validation from the Data menu. Excel displays the Data Validation dialog box.
  3. Using the Allow drop-down list, choose Custom.
  4. Enter the above formula in the Formula box. (All one line, no spaces.)
  5. Click on OK.

You may get an error when you click on OK, based on the contents of A1. (Excel may try to tell you that the contents of A1 don't validate according to the rule.) This is OK; the validation rule you are setting up will come into play when someone tries to enter something in the cell.

The formula basically pulls apart the entry being made and determines if each character is within bounds. If not, then the result of the formula is FALSE, and the validation rules come into play.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (2627) applies to Microsoft Excel 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. You can find a version of this tip for the ribbon interface of Excel (Excel 2007 and later) here: Limiting Input to a Format.

Related Tips:

Comprehensive VBA Guide Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) is the language used for writing macros in all Office programs. This complete guide shows both professionals and novices how to master VBA in order to customize the entire Office suite for their needs. Check out Mastering VBA for Office 2010 today!


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