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: Returning Blanks or Asterisks from a Lookup.

Returning Blanks or Asterisks from a Lookup

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated May 19, 2018)
This tip applies to Excel 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003


Bob asked if there was a way to use VLOOKUP to return blanks or asterisks if the function cannot make a match in a lookup table.

Yes, this can be done, but not without making your formula just a bit more complex. The trick is to remember that VLOOKUP can operate in one of two ways. By default, it returns the next lower value to the one being looked for, if the data table is in ascending order and if there isn't an exact match. However, you can force VLOOKUP to only return exact matches, if desired. Consider the following example:

=VLOOKUP(5,A1:B10,2,FALSE)

This example searches through the lookup table (A1:B10) looking for the value 5 in the first column of the table. If it is found, then the corresponding value from the second column is returned. If it is not found, then VLOOKUP returns an #N/A error, indicating it could not locate the value. (The FALSE value as the fourth parameter indicates you don't want approximate matches.)

The key, then, is to play off this #N/A value and build what you want returned if there isn't a match. The following formula will return a series of five asterisks if there wasn't a match in the lookup:

=IF(ISNA(VLOOKUP(5,A1:B10,2,FALSE)),"*****",VLOOKUP(5,A1:B10,2,FALSE))

The ISNA function is used to test if the result of VLOOKUP is the #N/A error. If it is, then the asterisks are returned; if not, then the lookup value is returned. If you want the formula to return "nothing," then you can use this variation:

=IF(ISNA(VLOOKUP(5,A1:B10,2,FALSE)),"",VLOOKUP(5,A1:B10,2,FALSE))

This version returns a blank string if there was not a match in the lookup table. For some uses, this may not be exactly what you want. You may find it more appropriate to return a zero, and then hide zeroes in the worksheet (Tools | Options | View tab | clear the Zero Values check box). If you'd like a zero returned, then it takes only one change:

=IF(ISNA(VLOOKUP(5,A1:B10,2,FALSE)),0,VLOOKUP(5,A1:B10,2,FALSE))

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (3335) 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: Returning Blanks or Asterisks from a Lookup.

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

Reducing Leading without Cutting Off Text

When decreasing the vertical spacing of lines in a paragraph, you might end up with a condition where parts of your ...

Discover More

Make that Chart Quickly!

Need to generate a chart in the fastest possible way? Just use this shortcut key and you'll have one faster than you can ...

Discover More

Jumping to a Specific Cell Using a Hyperlink

Excel allows you to define hyperlinks in your worksheets, and these can target specific cells on other worksheets. Here ...

Discover More

Professional Development Guidance! Four world-class developers offer start-to-finish guidance for building powerful, robust, and secure applications with Excel. The authors show how to consistently make the right design decisions and make the most of Excel's powerful features. Check out Professional Excel Development today!

More ExcelTips (menu)

Making VLOOKUP Trigger a Macro

VLOOKUP is an oft-used worksheet function to lookup values in a data table. If the function cannot return a value, it ...

Discover More

Calculating Future Workdays

Need to calculate the date that is a certain number of workdays in the future? You can do so using a couple of different ...

Discover More

Referring to the Last Cell

It is not unusual to use worksheets to collect information over time. As you keep adding information to the worksheet, ...

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}] (all 7 characters, in the sequence shown) 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 two more than 2?

There are currently no comments for this tip. (Be the first to leave your comment—just use the simple form above!)


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.