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: Formulas Don't Calculate as Formulas.

Formulas Don't Calculate as Formulas

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated March 16, 2018)

11

When you enter information into a cell, Excel needs to determine how to treat that information. Should it be considered a date? A number? As a formula? Perhaps it is text? Excel interprets your cell entry according to a fairly well-defined set of rules. The "fallback" determination for a cell is to treat an entry as text.

You may notice something odd when entering information in a cell, however—Excel may always treat what you enter as text. For instance, you may enter a formula such as =B3 into a cell, with the expectation that the formula will be understood by Excel and the contents of cell B3 will be shown as a result of the formula. Excel, however, may simply display "=B3" in the cell, instead of the expected result.

If this happens to you, then Excel is not interpreting your cell entry as a formula, but as text. It is bypassing the normal parsing that goes on and instead jumping directly to the "fallback" determination of the cell containing text.

This problem happens most often when the cell into which you are entering information was previously formatted as text. In other words, someone used the Format Cells dialog box and explicitly formatted the cell as Text.

An easy way to correct this situation is to perform the following steps:

  1. Select the cell that contains the formula that is being interpreted as text.
  2. Choose Clear from the Edit menu, then choose Formats. This removes any formatting applied to the cell.
  3. Press F2. This puts the cell into edit mode.
  4. Immediately press Enter. This causes Excel to re-evaluate what is in the cell.

Your formula should now be treated as a formula instead of as text.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (3087) 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: Formulas Don't Calculate as 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. ...

MORE FROM ALLEN

Inserting a Document's Location

Once you save a document on disk, it is stored in a particular folder (or location) on that disk. You may want that ...

Discover More

Stepping Through a Macro with a Worksheet Visible

When developing a macro, it is often necessary to step through the various code lines so you can see what is happening on ...

Discover More

Changing Character Spacing

Excel allows you to adjust spacing between cell walls and the contents of those cells. It does not, however, allow you to ...

Discover More

Program Successfully in Excel! John Walkenbach's name is synonymous with excellence in deciphering complex technical topics. With this comprehensive guide, "Mr. Spreadsheet" shows how to maximize your Excel experience using professional spreadsheet application development tips from his own personal bookshelf. Check out Excel 2013 Power Programming with VBA today!

More ExcelTips (menu)

Non-adjusting References in Formulas

Sometimes making sure that a reference in a formula doesn't get changed is not as simple as putting dollar signs in front ...

Discover More

Changing the Reference in a Named Range

Define a named range today and you may want to change the definition at some future point. It's rather easy to do, as ...

Discover More

Using a Formula to Replace Spaces with Dashes

If you need a formula to change spaces to some other character, the SUBSTITUTE function fits the bill. Here's how to use it.

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

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. Maximum image size is 6Mpixels. 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 eight minus 6?

2019-10-15 19:28:09

Miller

Rats, didn't work. When I enter a formula in any cell, it just displays the formula - doesn't calculate it. Very frustrating! I've tried copying all the data to another workbook, I've formatted the cell as general or number -- still won't calculate. What the heck!?


2018-11-22 08:45:45

Michael

There is another way to do it without using F2 - column by column.

Highlight particular column, then go to Data ---> Text To Columns, step through wizard ---> step 3 of 3 select Date which should convert cells into numbers. Then format as dates and they will appear correctly.

Still a lot of steps but I guess better than having to do each cell individually.


2018-11-21 08:11:51

Janko

I have same question like Jake and Mike. Is possible to do this for many cells at once? Hundert times to press F2 and ENTER is not fun.


2016-03-28 17:39:58

Sarah

the formula shows, I've formatted for numbers but it doesn't calculate. I also can't link it to a cell in another worksheet. It is bizarre.


2016-02-07 17:10:05

Julie

I'm try to compare 1 column values to other columns if a value is present. EXAMPLE on the L column L6:L330 has a value say x in all 330 rows and column 0 is 1 of 5 columns say O6:O330 only has 6 x's in all 330 rows WHAT does the formula look like to accomplish the count of the 6 x's in column O compared to column L ?


2016-01-27 00:34:33

Sivadas Manghat

Thanks. It is working


2015-11-05 13:34:03

LC

THANKS A LOT!


2015-10-02 03:37:54

Mike

Is it possible to do this for a huge block of cells without having to press F2 + Enter for every cell individually?


2015-07-02 14:56:35

PJE

That works, thank you.


2015-06-05 11:45:00

Tolu

Thanks alot. I have learnt something new


2014-11-21 01:13:22

Jake

Thank you. This is common when working with SAP related excels.
How can I do this for the whole table?


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.