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Limiting Number of Characters in a Cell

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 Number of Characters in a Cell.

Chris has a need to limit the number of characters that can be typed into a cell. For example, he needs to limit the input to no more than 20 characters per cell, whether they are typed or pasted into the cell. If the user tries to put in more than 20 characters, then they need to be alerted and the input disallowed. Chris wonders how he can enforce such a limitation.

Excel's Data Validation feature has a built-in way to check for the length of whatever is being entered into a cell. All you need to do is select the cell you want to limit and follow these steps:

  1. Choose Validation from the Data menu. Excel displays the Data Validation dialog box. (See Figure 1.)
  2. Figure 1. The Data Validation dialog box.

  3. Using the Allow drop-down list, choose Text Length.
  4. Using the Data drop-down list, choose Less Than.
  5. In the Maximum box, enter the value 20.
  6. Click OK.

This works fine if you are entering text into a cell, but it can be a little funky if someone is entering a numeric value. (This may not be a real problem, as entering more than 20 digits as a number is a very unusual circumstance in Excel.)

It also is a problem if you want to make sure that pasted information is checked for its length; pasting something into a cell that uses Data Validation eliminates the Data Validation on the cell. In that case you'll want to use a macro to do the length checking. You can find such a solution already at ExcelTips, in a tip entitled Setting a Length Limit on Cells. (You can search for this tip title using the search box at the upper-right of any page.)

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (12328) 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 Number of Characters in a Cell.

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