Formulas Don't Calculate as Formulas

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated September 14, 2013)

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.

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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