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: Fixed-Width Settings when Converting Text to Columns.

Fixed-Width Settings when Converting Text to Columns

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated December 12, 2015)

Milda needs to use Excel's Convert Text to Columns Wizard quite often for one of her work projects. She needs to use the fixed-width parsing in the tool, and when she runs the wizard Excel looks at the source data and suggests places where the data should be "broken." Milda finds this annoying, as Excel normally guesses wrong. She wonders if there is a way to clear all of the suggested break lines at once so she can enter the break lines manually where she wants them.

There is no way to stop Excel from guessing when trying to parse fixed-width data. There are a few things you can try, however, that may help. For instance, some people have reported better results in Excel's guesses if you format the source column with a Courier font before doing the conversion. (Courier is a monospace font and may help Excel better "see" the natural breaking points for the data.)

Another possibility is to trick Excel into thinking that it is best not to guess about breaks. Before you run the Convert Text to Columns Wizard, insert a blank row at the top of your data. In the row, put a long string of characters with no spaces. For instance, you might put in 200 X characters, with no spaces or punctuation. When you run the wizard, Excel won't be able to figure out where the breaks are in this data, so it doesn't venture any guesses. After the wizard is complete, you can then simply delete the row.

Finally, you can develop a Visual Basic routine to handle the data deconstruction for you. This is a particularly good solution if you find that your project involves working with identically formatted text all the time. You might start by using the macro recorder to record a session with the Text to Columns Wizard and see if what is recorded is a good starting place for future conversions.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (3253) 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: Fixed-Width Settings when Converting Text to Columns.

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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