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: Sorting Data Containing Merged Cells.

Sorting Data Containing Merged Cells

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated September 10, 2016)

Excel has long included the ability to merge adjacent cells into a larger, single cell. This ability has been used by many worksheet designers to give their worksheets a polished, professional look.

There is a huge drawback to using merged cells, however: You can't sort tables that include them. If you try, you'll get a message that says "The operation requires the merged cells to be identically sized."

The most obvious solution to the problem is to not use merged cells. Let's say, for instance, that you have a worksheet in which each "record" actually consists of two rows, and that the first column of the worksheet contains merged cells. (Each two-row record starts with two merged cells spanning the two rows. This merged cell contains a project name.)

It is better to unmerge the cells in the first column, but then you may wonder how to make the records sort properly in the worksheet; how to keep the row pairs together during a sort. You can do this by putting your project name in the first row and the project name appended with "zz" in the second row. For instance, if the first row contains "Wilburn Chemical" (the project name), then the second row could contain "Wilburn Chemicalzz". Format the second row's cell so the name doesn't show up (such as white text on a white background), and you can then successfully sort as you want to.

Another solution is to use a macro to juggle your worksheet and get the sorting done. Assuming that the merged cells are in column A (as previously described), you can use the following macro to sort the data by the contents of column A:

Sub SortList()
    Dim sAddStart As String
    Dim rng As Range
    Dim rng2 As Range
    Dim lRows As Long

    Application.ScreenUpdating = False
    sAddStart = Selection.Address
    Set rng = Range("A1").CurrentRegion

    With rng
        lRows = .Rows.Count - 1
        .Cells(1).EntireColumn.Insert
        .Cells(1).Offset(0, -1) = "Temp"
        .Cells(1).Offset(1, -1).FormulaR1C1 = _
          "=+RC[1]&"" ""&ROW()"
        .Cells(1).Offset(2, -1).FormulaR1C1 = _
          "=+R[-1]C[1]&"" ""&ROW()"
        Set rng2 = .Cells(1).Offset(1, -1).Resize(lRows, 1)
        Range(.Cells(2, 0), .Cells(3, 0)).AutoFill _
            Destination:=rng2
        rng2.Copy
        rng2.PasteSpecial Paste:=xlValues

        .Columns(1).MergeCells = False

    .CurrentRegion.Sort _
        Key1:=Range("A2"), Order1:=xlAscending, _
        Header:=xlYes, OrderCustom:=1, _
        MatchCase:=False, Orientation:=xlTopToBottom

        rng2.EntireColumn.Delete

        With Range(.Cells(2, 1), .Cells(3, 1))
            .Merge
            .Copy
            .Cells(3, 1).Resize(lRows - 2, 1). _
                PasteSpecial Paste:=xlFormats
        End With
    End With
    Application.CutCopyMode = False
    Range(sAddStart).Select
    Application.ScreenUpdating = True
End Sub

The macro inserts a temporary column, reads the items from the first column of the list, appends the row number, copies it down the temporary column, unmerges the cells, sorts the list, deletes the temporary column, and re-merges column A. (That's a lot of work just to sort a table with merged cells!)

This macro is very specific to a particular layout of your data, and therefore would need to be tested and probably modified to make sure it would work with data formatted in any other way.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (2581) 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: Sorting Data Containing Merged Cells.

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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