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Evaluating Formulas

Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Excel versions: 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: Evaluating Formulas.

Often it is frustrating to figure out exactly how Excel arrives at a particular result—particularly if the formula returning the result is quite complex. Fortunately, Excel provides a tool you can use to help figure out what is going on when Excel evaluates a formula. To access this tool, follow these steps:

  1. Select the cell containing the formula you want to evaluate.
  2. Choose Formula Auditing from the Tools menu. Excel displays a submenu.
  3. Form the submenu choose Evaluate Formula. Excel displays the Evaluate Formula dialog box. (See Figure 1.)
  4. Figure 1. The Evaluate Formula dialog box.

At this point, Excel shows the full formula from the cell, and part of it is underlined. This underlined area represents the part of the formula that Excel will next evaluate. This allows you to see what intermediate steps Excel follows in arriving at a result. Every time you click the Evaluate button, Excel replaces the underlined portion of the formula with a result.

Nothing you do with the formula evaluator actually affects the formula in your worksheet; it remains unchanged. Instead, Excel simply shows you what happens as it works through each part of the formula to arrive at a result. When you are done using the formula evaluator, click the Close button.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (2999) applies to Microsoft Excel 2002 and 2003. You can find a version of this tip for the ribbon interface of Excel (Excel 2007 and later) here: Evaluating Formulas.

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