Splitting Text to Multiple Cells

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated January 16, 2021)
This tip applies to Excel 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003


Phil has a series of cells that contain text. Some of the text is too long, so he needs to split it into multiple cells. For instance, if a cell contains "the quick brown fox" and he needs to split the text so that no part is longer than 12 characters, Phil can easily do it. But he wants to make sure that the split is made at the space before the 12th character, rather than at the exact 12th character. Phil is at a loss as to how to do this.

You might think you could use the Text to Columns tool in Excel, but it is not suited well for the job. If you set the tool to split text based on delimiters such as a space, then you end up with a single word in each cell. If you set the tool to split the text as "fixed width," then it doesn't split words at spaces; it just makes sure that each chunk is whatever size you specify.

You could use a formula to get the desired results, but doing so would result in formulas that are amazingly long. For instance, if the too-long text is in cell A3, the following formula could be used to split out the first chunk of that text, at the space before the 12th character:

=IF(LEN($A3)>12,IF(ISERROR(FIND(" ",MID($A3,12,1)
&MID($A3,11,1)&MID($A3,10,1)&MID($A3,9,1)&MID($A3,8,1)
&MID($A3,7,1)&MID($A3,6,1)&MID($A3,5,1)&MID($A3,4,1)
&MID($A3,3,1)&MID($A3,2,1))),MID($A3,1,1),MID($A3,1,
13-FIND(" ",MID($A3,12,1)&MID($A3,11,1)&MID($A3,10,1)
&MID($A3,9,1)&MID($A3,8,1)&MID($A3,7,1)&MID($A3,6,1)
&MID($A3,5,1)&MID($A3,4,1)&MID($A3,3,1)&MID($A3,2,1))))
,RIGHT($A3,LEN($A3)))

Remember—this is all a single formula, just to get the first chunk. The formulas to get the second, third, fourth, and later chunks are even longer. Clearly, using a formula may not be the best approach.

This leaves using a macro. A macro can examine the text string and easily chop it up into pieces of the desired length. Consider the following user-defined function:

Function SplitMe(sSentence As String, iPos As Integer, Optional iLen = 12)
    Dim sSegments() As String
    Dim iSegments As Integer
    Dim sRest As String
    Dim sTemp As String
    Dim iSpace As Integer
    Dim J As Integer

    iSegments = 0
    sRest = sSentence
    sTemp = Left(sRest, iLen + 1)
    Do Until Len(sTemp) <= iLen
        iSpace = 0
        For J = Len(sTemp) To 1 Step -1
            If Mid(sTemp, J, 1) = " " And iSpace = 0 Then iSpace = J
        Next J
        If iSpace > 0 Then
            sTemp = Left(sRest, iSpace - 1)
            sRest = Mid(sRest, iSpace + 1)
        Else
            sRest = Mid(sRest, Len(sTemp) + 1)
        End If
        iSegments = iSegments + 1
        ReDim Preserve sSegments(1 To iSegments)
        sSegments(iSegments) = sTemp
        sTemp = Left(sRest, iLen + 1)
    Loop
    iSegments = iSegments + 1
    ReDim Preserve sSegments(1 To iSegments)
    sSegments(iSegments) = sTemp
    If iPos <= iSegments Then
        SplitMe = sSegments(iPos)
    Else
        SplitMe = ""
    End If
End Function

The function takes either two or three parameters. The first parameter is the string to be split up, the second is which chunk you want from the string, and the third (and optional) parameter is the desired length of each chunk. If you leave off the third parameter, then the function assumes you want each chunk to be a maximum of 12 characters. As an example, assuming that the text is in cell A5, the following will return the second chunk from the text where each chunk is up to 12 characters long:

=SplitMe(A5,2)

The function will return good results, provided each word in the text string is no longer than the specified target length for each chunk. If it is, then you'll get some strange results, including some chunks that don't contain full words.

Note:

If you would like to know how to use the macros described on this page (or on any other page on the ExcelTips sites), I've prepared a special page that includes helpful information. Click here to open that special page in a new browser tab.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (3899) 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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