Copying Between Instances of Excel

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated January 16, 2018)


If you've ever worked with a system that is configured for two monitors, it is really quite amazing; it can change the way you work. For example, you might open two instances of Excel and put one of them on one monitor and the other on the other monitor. You can then work with both workbooks onscreen at the same time.

One thing you'll notice, however, is that copying information from one instance of Excel to another works differently than when you copy within the same instance. If you copy a cell that contains a formula and then paste it in the other instance, what gets pasted is the result of the formula, not the formula itself. You can't even use Paste Special from the Edit menu to paste formulas; that isn't an option when working with two instances.

Unfortunately, there is no easy way to get formulas from one instance of Excel to another. The best you can do is the following:

  1. In the source workbook, select a single cell that you want to copy.
  2. Press F2. Excel switches to Edit mode.
  3. While still in Edit mode, select everything in the cell (the entire formula).
  4. Press Ctrl+C. Excel copies the formula to the Clipboard.
  5. Press Esc to exit Edit mode.
  6. In the target workbook, select the cell where you want the formula pasted.
  7. Press F2. Excel again switches to Edit mode.
  8. Press Ctrl+V. The formula is pasted into the cell.
  9. Press Enter. Edit mode is exited, and the formula is now safely in the target cell.

This tedious procedure must be used for each formula you want to copy between instances. For this reason, many people choose not to use separate instances of Excel, even if they have the luxury of multiple monitors. Instead, the work with different windows within the same instance of Excel. Follow these steps:

  1. Open the two workbooks you want to work with.
  2. Choose Arrange from the Window menu. Excel displays the Arrange Windows dialog box. (See Figure 1.)
  3. Figure 1. The Arrange Windows dialog box.

  4. Choose Tiled. (You can choose other options, if you prefer, but I find that Tiled works best for me.)
  5. Click OK. The two workbooks are now side-by-side in the program window.
  6. Make sure the Excel window is not maximized. (Click the Restore button at the upper-right corner of the program window.)
  7. Position the non-maximized window in the left-most of your monitors.
  8. Drag the right border of the Excel program window onto the second monitor. A single instance of Excel now covers both monitors.
  9. Within the Excel window, use the mouse to arrange the two workbooks so one is on each monitor.

Since you are using a single instance of Excel—even though it extends across two monitors—you can now cut, copy, and paste as you normally would.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (3404) 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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What is 5 - 2?

2016-11-28 17:07:47


If you file open from the existing excel worksheet instead of double clicking on a file through windows explorer, it eliminates the two instances and you can copy/paste special as normal.

2016-02-16 07:40:43


In Excel for Mac multiple instances is default, and working on multiple screens is completely native. Copying between the Excel files poses no problem what so ever.

Why Microsoft keep this ridiculous behaviour preserved for Windows Office, I have no idea.

2015-11-06 16:05:47

Jim Kampfe

Why not use copy paste special sylk?

2014-05-31 05:52:42

Jo Bennett

Allen, this is brilliant - thank you so much! I have saved this in 3 places so I don't forget how to do it!

2014-03-02 16:29:14


Rik White, you are a smart cookie :)

2013-11-22 07:31:09


It couldn't be the Whiskey, but you must be copying to the same cell reference (e.g., from C3 in the source to C3 in the target). Otherwise you lose the relative reference. So, to take an absurdly simple example, if you wanted to sum the two cells above, but you copied to cell E4 you would have a formula that summed C1:C2 instead of E2:E3. I use this technique (except I use a space for the equal sign) when the stars (cells) align the right way, but usually when I want to use a formula from one sheet in another, it is a different application that uses the calculation and the rows and/or columns are different. It is easier(but annoying to have to) just make sure that the two worksheets are in the same instance of Excel by opening the second one from the File menu in the first one.

2013-11-21 12:46:58


I'm wondering if there's any way to make the whole menu and ribbon occur on the top of both monitors and not only the left one when you do this. Any clue?

2013-07-07 06:34:37


That works beautifully if (but only if) the cell references are identical (same absolute row and column references). If the relative row and column references aren't the same, you have to adjust them after you paste.

Enjoy your Irish.

2013-07-06 14:22:39

Rik White

I copy formulas for worksheets by replacing all instances of '=' with 'xxx' then copy/paste to the new worksheet and in that sheet simply reverse to reactivate the formulas-am I missing something as Irish Whiskey might have blunted my perceptions this evening! Cheers Rik

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