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: Non-standard Sorting.

Non-standard Sorting

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated August 3, 2017)

It is not unusual in an office environment to work with Excel files created by other people. Some of these files can be pretty different than the files you might create. For instance, you might inherit a file in which the first column contains a person's first name on the first line, then their last name on the second line. (The user pressed Alt+Enter to separate the first name from the second name within the same cell.) What if you need to sort the rows in the worksheet based on the last name of the person?

Perhaps the best way to complete such a task is to insert a new column in the worksheet—column B. (This column could be hidden so it doesn't show up when normally working with the worksheet or when printing it out.) The following formula should then be placed in each cell of column B:


Obviously the cell references will change when placed in column B. In this formula the FIND portion determines the position of the Alt+Enter character (the character code of this character is 10). The RIGHT function returns the characters in the cell starting at the character following the Alt+Enter character. This solution results in column B containing the information on the second line of the first column. You can then easily sort based on the information in column B.

There is one assumption made in this solution—that there are only two lines in each cell of column A. If there are more, or less, then the solution becomes more difficult. If that is the case, the best (and easiest) solution may be to reformat the worksheet so that the sort key is in a column all by itself. If that is not possible (for whatever reason), then the following user-defined VBA function can be used:

Function SecLine(x) As String
    Dim B1 As Integer
    Dim B2 As Integer
    B1 = InStr(x, Chr(10))
    B2 = InStr(B1 + 1, x, Chr(10))
    If (B1 + B2) > 0 Then
        If B2 > 0 Then
            SecLine = Mid(x, B1 + 1, B2 – B1 - 1)
            SecLine = Mid(x, B1 + 1)
        End If
    End If
End Function

To use this routine, simply include the following in the cells in column B:


Regardless of how many lines there are in cell A2 (in this instance), the function returns a string representing the value of the second line.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (2252) 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: Non-standard Sorting.

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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