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Limitations On Finding Characters

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: Limitations On Finding Characters.

Harold wonders if there is a limitation of characters in a cell beyond which "Find" will not find a string. He has a lot of text in one cell (22,500 characters) where the string MIMO is near the end, and "Find and Replace" says it's not there. The reason he knew it was there was because he was testing an array formula using the SEARCH function, and it said MIMO was there. Harold thought he had an error in my formula but he seemed to find this Excel limitation instead.

There is no limitation that we can find; Find and Replace should find the text MIMO at the end of the string, no matter how long. (This is dependent on the length limitations for strings in Excel, of course.)

That being said, there is an explanation as to why this probably occurred; a short experiment will illustrate the reason. In cell A1, enter the letters "MIMO." Then, in cell A2, enter the formula =A1. Both of these cells should show the text "MIMO" on the screen.

Now, in cell A5 enter the following formula:

=SEARCH("MIMO",A1)

Copy the formula down one cell, to A6. The result of both formulas should be the number 1, just as you expect—SEARCH finds the text "MIMO" beginning at the first character position in both A1 and A2.

Now, press Ctrl+F and enter "MIMO" (without the quotes) in the Find What box. When you click on Find Next, Excel should select cell A1. When you click Find Next again, it should skip to cell A5. In other words, it bypasses cell A2. What gives? You can clearly see "MIMO" in the cell, but Excel doesn't find it.

The reason is because the default way in which Excel does its searching is to look in formulas, not at the values produced by those formulas. In the worksheet, cell A1 has "MIMO" within the formula (it is the actual contents of the cell), but cell A2 doesn't have it in the formula—it is the result of the formula.

If you want to find "MIMO" in both instances, then you need to change how you use Find and Replace. When you press Ctrl+F to display the Find dialog box, make sure you use the Look In drop-down list to choose Values. When you do the search, Excel bases what it finds on what is shown on the screen. With this setting, Find and Replace works exactly the same way as the SEARCH function, which also bases its results on the cell value, not the underlying formula that results in the value.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (9235) 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: Limitations On Finding Characters.

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