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: Starting Out Formulas.

Starting Out Formulas

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated August 8, 2015)

When you are entering information in a cell, Excel recognizes the information as a formula if you start it with the equal sign. If you are entering lots of numeric information, you may find it a bother to continually move your hand away from the numeric keypad to enter the requisite equal sign for each cell.

One way to handle this is to begin each cell with a plus sign instead of the equal sign. When you press Enter at the end of the formula you are entering, Excel automatically converts the leading plus sign to an equal sign.

There is a caveat to this "plus sign behavior." If you type either of the following, the plus sign does not go away:

+A1+A2
+SUM(A1:A2)

Excel converts to these:

=+A1+A2
=+SUM(A1:A2)

However, if the first operand is a numeric constant, then a conversion takes place:

+25+A2

Excel converts to this:

=25+A2

It is interesting that if you place a plus sign in front of a date, it defeats Excel's automatic date parsing and causes it to be parsed as a formula:

+11-21-15

Excel converts to this, replacing the plus sign with an equal sign and displaying a result of -25:

=11-21-13

You get a similar parsing result if you use a different delimiter, as in +11/21/15.

The bottom line is that for those who use the numeric keypad to enter formulas that consist of numbers, this can be a real plus (no pun intended) since you don't have to move your hand to enter a leading plus sign, as you would for a leading equal sign.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (2351) 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: Starting Out Formulas.

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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