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: Converting Forced Text to Numbers.

Converting Forced Text to Numbers

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated February 20, 2017)

When you enter information in a worksheet, Excel does its best to decipher what type of data you are entering. If your entry can be translated as a number or a date, then Excel treats it that way. You can overcome this natural tendency of Excel by formatting a cell as text before entering information in it. When you do, the information in the cell is always treated as text.

Of course, forcing Excel to treat your input as text can have unwanted repercussions later. For instance, you may decide that you want to add up the contents of cells that are formatted as text. If you use a formula such as the following, then Excel has no problem:

=A1 + A2

Excel provides the correct sum, provided at least one of the cells (A1 or A2) was not formatted as text. To make matters tricky, however, if you use the SUM function (which most people do when summing an entire column or row), then you won't get the proper sum. The SUM function ignores any cells formatted as text. How do you get around this?

It is possible to remove the text formatting attribute from the cells you want to sum, but that won't cause Excel to reassess the contents of the cells and treat them as numbers or dates, where appropriate. There are several different ways you can force the conversion of forced text into numeric values, ranging from macros to using formulas in other columns to perform the conversion. The following two solutions, however, seem to be the easiest and quickest.

The first method is accomplished by following these steps:

  1. Enter the value 1 in an empty cell.
  2. Select the cell and press Ctrl+C. The value is now in the Clipboard.
  3. Select the range of cells you want to convert to numbers.
  4. Choose Paste Special from the Edit menu. Excel displays the Paste Special dialog box. (See Figure 1.)
  5. Figure 1. The Paste Special dialog box.

  6. Make sure the Multiply radio button is selected.
  7. Click on OK.

This works because Excel multiples each cell in the range (step 3) by the value in the Clipboard and then again stores the value in the cell. Since any number multiplied by one is that same number, you effectively force Excel to replace the contents of the cell with the numerical equivalent of the text that was previously there.

If the range you want to convert contains only numbers formatted as text and not any actual text, then the following steps work well:

  1. Select the range of cells you want to convert to numbers.
  2. Choose Text to Columns from the Data menu. Excel displays the Convert Text to Columns Wizard. (See Figure 2.)
  3. Figure 2. The Convert Text to Columns Wizard.

  4. Click on Finish.

If you try these three steps on a range of cells that has text containing spaces or tabs, it is possible that you could overwrite data in columns to the right of the selected range. That is why it is safest to use if the range only contains numeric values formatted as text.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (2670) 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: Converting Forced Text to Numbers.

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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