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: Entering Formulas in Excel.

Entering Formulas in Excel

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated February 1, 2020)
This tip applies to Excel 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003


Excel allows you to use a special symbol—the equal sign—to indicate that you expect what you type next to be translated into a formula. Consider the following examples:

27 + 14
B2 + B3
= 27 + 14
= B2 + B3

At first glance, you might not see much difference between the first two examples and the last two. There is a big difference to Excel, however. The last two include equal signs, that special symbol for formulas. This means that Excel trys to perform the operation indicated in the formula—in this case, an addition operation. In the first two examples (without the equal signs), Excel translates the information as text.

There is one other way that you can enter formulas into Excel: through the use of an implied equal sign. You do this by prefacing the formula with a plus sign or a minus sign, as shown here:

-27 + 14
+B2 + B3

This method of entering formulas is archaic, at best, and supported in Excel only for compatibility with older spreadsheet programs. Once the formula is entered, Excel maintains the plus or minus sign, but automatically adds an equal sign to the start of the formula.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (2091) 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: Entering Formulas in Excel.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...

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