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: Dealing with Circular References.

Dealing with Circular References

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated May 5, 2016)

3

A circular reference is caused by including within a formula a reference to the cell storing the formula. It often occurs when the user selects the range for a function and inadvertently includes the formula location itself. For instance, if you stored the following formula in cell A3, the result is a circular reference:

= A1 + A2 + A3

If you try to enter a circular reference, Excel alerts you to the problem by displaying a dialog box. This dialog box requests you to click OK if the circular reference was a mistake or click Cancel if it was intentional. Unfortunately many users react without carefully reading the dialog box and press Cancel or press Esc just to get rid of the dialog box. Oops! The formula returns zero and the circular reference remains in your worksheet.

In the status bar, at the bottom of the screen, Excel displays Circular: and the address of the offending formula. Every help text I have seen indicates that the address of the circular reference is listed in the status bar. This is true only if the circular reference is on the current worksheet. The Circular notation is displayed any time a circular reference is present in any open workbook.

If you notice the Circular notation without an accompanying address, you can spend a lot of time working through every sheet of every open workbook until you see the address. There is a faster way to find circular references, regardless of where they are. When a circular reference is in existence, there is a circular reference toolbar available! Simply display the toolbar (using the same steps you use to display any toolbar) and use the drop-down list it contains to find a list of circular references. Click on one of them, and the cell with the reference is selected and displayed immediately.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (2163) 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: Dealing with Circular References.

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. ...

MORE FROM ALLEN

Format Painter Shortcut

Need a way to copy formatting using the keyboard? Word has a great one, and it doesn't involve the Format Painter or the ...

Discover More

Lines that Don't Change When You Type

Create a form in Word and you will invariably be faced with the need to places fill-in-the-blank lines in the document. If ...

Discover More

Synchronous Scrolling with More than Two Windows

Synchronous scrolling of different windows can be very helpful with some worksheets. Excel allows you to synchronize the ...

Discover More

Solve Real Business Problems Master business modeling and analysis techniques with Excel and transform data into bottom-line results. This hands-on, scenario-focused guide shows you how to use the latest Excel tools to integrate data from multiple tables. Check out Microsoft Excel 2013 Data Analysis and Business Modeling today!

MORE EXCELTIPS (MENU)

Formatting Canadian Postal Codes

Postal codes in Canada consist of six characters, separated into two groups. This tip explains the format and then shows how ...

Discover More

Last Non-Zero Value in a Row

If you have a lot of values in a single row, you might want to pull the last non-zero value from that row. There are a ...

Discover More

Formulas Don't Calculate as Formulas

Enter a formula (starting with an equal sign) and you may be surprised if Excel doesn't calculate the formula. Here's a good ...

Discover More
Subscribe

FREE SERVICE: Get tips like this every week in ExcelTips, a free productivity newsletter. Enter your address and click "Subscribe."

View most recent newsletter.

Comments for this tip:

If you would like to add an image to your comment (not an avatar, but an image to help in making the point of your comment), include the characters [{fig}] in your comment text. You’ll be prompted to upload your image when you submit the comment. Images larger than 600px wide or 1000px tall will be reduced. Up to three images may be included in a comment. All images are subject to review. Commenting privileges may be curtailed if inappropriate images are posted.

What is 7 + 8?

2016-12-03 03:40:19

Angus Macmillan

Solve my problem with circular references

Many thanks.


2013-04-25 17:30:08

pattie

trying to find the percentage of the amount out of the total amount, creates circular reference. for example, three different amounts, then a total of the three. what is the percenage of item 1 of the total of all three. 10+20+30=60, 10 / 60 = 16.67%. won't allow using the total because it is the sum of the three numbers. in the cell 10 divided by the cell 60 ( sum of all three) won't return a percentage - circular reference.


2013-01-18 09:46:00

Lamin N.T. Sonko

I've just come across the tips.net and is highly impressed from the word go and hopeful to gain a lot of benefit to enhance my skills in excel to ease my work as an Accountant.


This Site

Got a version of Excel that uses the menu interface (Excel 97, Excel 2000, Excel 2002, or Excel 2003)? This site is for you! If you use a later version of Excel, visit our ExcelTips site focusing on the ribbon interface.

Newest Tips
Subscribe

FREE SERVICE: Get tips like this every week in ExcelTips, a free productivity newsletter. Enter your address and click "Subscribe."

(Your e-mail address is not shared with anyone, ever.)

View the most recent newsletter.

Links and Sharing