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 Item Codes Instead of Item Names.

Returning Item Codes Instead of Item Names

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated October 26, 2019)

Alan can use data validation to create a drop-down list of valid choices for a cell. However, what he actually needs is more complex. He has a large number of item names with associated item codes. In cell B2 he can create a data validation list that shows all the item names (agitator, motor, pump, tank, etc.). The user can then choose one of these. When he references cell B2 elsewhere, however, he wants the item code—not the item name—returned by the reference. Thus, the reference would return A, M, P, TK, etc. instead of agitator, motor, pump, tank, etc.

There is no direct way to do this in Excel. The reason is because data validation lists are set up to include only a single-dimensional list of items. This makes it easy for the list to contain your item names. However, you can expand how you use the data validation list a bit to get what you want. Follow these steps:

  1. Someplace to the right of your worksheet data, set up a data table. This table will contain your item names, and to the right of each item name, the item code associated with that name.
  2. Select the cells that contain your item names. (Don't select the item codes, just the names.)
  3. Choose Insert | Name | Define. Excel displays the Define Name dialog box. (See Figure 1.)
  4. Figure 1. The Define Name dialog box.

  5. In the Name box, enter a descriptive name, such as ItemNames.
  6. Click OK to add the name and close the dialog box.
  7. Select cell B2 (the cell where you want your validation list).
  8. Choose Validation from the Data menu. Excel displays the Data Validation dialog box. (See Figure 2.)
  9. Figure 2. The Data Validation dialog box.

  10. Using the Allow drop-down list, choose List.
  11. In the Source box, enter an equal sign followed by the name you defined in step 4 (such as =ItemNames).
  12. Click OK.

With these steps done, people can still use the data validation drop-down list to select valid item names. What you now need to do is reference the item code from the data table you set up in step 1. You can do that with a formula such as this:

=VLOOKUP(B2,OFFSET(Itemlist,0,0,,2),2,FALSE)

This formula can be used on its own (to put the desired item code into a cell) or it could be used within a larger formula, anyplace you would have originally referenced B2.

If, for some reason, you cannot create a data table for your item names and codes, you could approach the problem by creating an array formula:

=INDEX({"A","M","P","TK"},MATCH(B2,{"agitator","motor","pump","tank"},0))

As with all array formulas, you enter this one by pressing Ctrl+Shift+Enter. The biggest drawback to it is that it can quickly become unwieldy to keep the formula updated and there is a "viability limit" on how many pairs of codes and items you can include in the formula. (The limit is defined by formula length, so it depends on the length of your item names.) Also, this approach is good to only return the item code in another cell, rather than including it as part of a larger formula.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (12077) 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 Item Codes Instead of Item Names.

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

Moving Found Text Down On a Page

When you use the Search feature to find information, if the information is not on the visible page, then Word displays ...

Discover More

Problems Using the Footnote Pane

When working with footnotes in Draft view, you rely on the use of the footnote pane. However, the pane doesn't work ...

Discover More

Summing Absolute Values

You can easily sum a series of values in Excel, but it is not so easy to sum the absolute values of each value in a ...

Discover More

Program Successfully in Excel! John Walkenbach's name is synonymous with excellence in deciphering complex technical topics. With this comprehensive guide, "Mr. Spreadsheet" shows how to maximize your Excel experience using professional spreadsheet application development tips from his own personal bookshelf. Check out Excel 2013 Power Programming with VBA today!

More ExcelTips (menu)

Determining a State from an Area Code

Want to be able to take information that is in one cell and match it to data that is contained in a table within a ...

Discover More

Looking Up Names when Key Values are Identical

Need to look up some values based upon some key items that may be identical to each other? Depending on the ...

Discover More

Making VLOOKUP Case Sensitive

The VLOOKUP function, like other lookup functions in Excel, is not case sensitive. In other words, it doesn't matter ...

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}] 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 eight minus 6?

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.