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How do you use Microsoft Excel VLOOKUP?

Updated on February 23, 2017

What is Microsoft Excel VLOOKUP used for?

VLOOKUP is a powerful formula (or function) that allows you to lookup a value you want to find in another Excel range (table or list) and find additional information. As an example, in a grocery store guide, you would lookup the grocery item you want (example: fruit) and find the isle where the item was located.

The Syntax of VLOOKUP is:

VLOOKUP(lookup_value,table_array,col_index_num,range_lookup)

lookup_value: this is the value to search for in the first column of the array.

table_array: this is two or more columns of data - the values in the first column are the values searched for by lookup_value.

col_index_num: the column number in the table_array from which the data will be returned from.

Range_lookup: a logical value that indicates whether an exact match is required.

How do I use Microsoft Excel VLOOKUP?

Many people will look at the syntax and definitions of VLOOKUP and simply give up. However, it is a very simple formula to use. The steps below will demonstrate how to use VLOOKUP in Microsoft Excel:

Creating Data Tables for use with VLOOKUP

The two tables below contain information about employees of a fictional company. Table 1 has indicitive data about the employee, while Table 2 has information about the region and office.

The common data in both tables is the Name of the employee and therefore this must be placed in the first column of the table. While in this example it is not relevant, it is always a good idea to sort the values in the first column in order low to high - this becomes important when you are not searching for an exact match.

The highlighted columns are the common data in both tables and MUST be the first column in each table.
The highlighted columns are the common data in both tables and MUST be the first column in each table. | Source

Creating a Table where I want the combined data to be listed

I’ve decided that I want a table that has the Office and Salary for a few employees. I therefore create a third table that lists the Name of the employees I need this information for and add two columns to retrieve the information from the other tables

The highlighted cells are a sub-set of the data from Table 1 and Table 2 - these are the only names I am interested in for this table - I don't have to list every name.
The highlighted cells are a sub-set of the data from Table 1 and Table 2 - these are the only names I am interested in for this table - I don't have to list every name. | Source

Filling in the combined data table using VLOOKUP

In the below VLOOKUP example we will create a VLOOKUP to find the Office for each employee:

  • Click on cell D6 (this is where we will create the VLOOKUP formula)
  • Press the fx button to open the formula wizard.

The formula wizard is located at the left of the formula bar under the Microsoft Excel Ribbon.
The formula wizard is located at the left of the formula bar under the Microsoft Excel Ribbon. | Source
  • Choose the vlookup option.

You may have to scroll down to find the VLOOKUP function in the formula wizard.
You may have to scroll down to find the VLOOKUP function in the formula wizard. | Source
  • Press the OK button.

Now we will ‘build’ the VLOOKUP

  • In the Lookup_value field enter the cell that you want to look at. In this case it is the first cell in the Name column (cell c6)

As you enter the fields you will see a partial result to the right of the box - if it looks incorrect then there's an error.
As you enter the fields you will see a partial result to the right of the box - if it looks incorrect then there's an error. | Source
  • In the Table_array field navigate to the table where the relevant data is 0 in this case it’s office in Table 2 (Note – I only include the main headings in the Table_array – I didn’t include the ‘Table 2 – Office Data’ summary heading)

Source
  • In the Col_index_num field enter the column with the data you want to return. In this case the third column in Table 2 – column 1 would be the Name column – as the Office column is the third column in the table we use 3 as the Col_index_num

Source
  • In the Range_Lookup field choose True or False, in this case False. If you want an exact match (as we do in this case) then use False, if you want to find the nearest entry to the data you are looking up use True.

Source
  • Once you have filled all the boxes in, press OK. You will now see the cell populated with the Office for Andrew North

The VLOOKUP formula has found the relevant Office for
The VLOOKUP formula has found the relevant Office for | Source
  • Copy this formula to the cells below.
  • Repeat the above this time selecting table one, and column 4 (Salary)



The table should now contain all of the information you want from the other tables.

The completed VLOOKUP table combines data from both Table 1 and Table 2.
The completed VLOOKUP table combines data from both Table 1 and Table 2. | Source

Looking up non-exact information with VLOOKUP

Often when you use a VLOOKUP you may not require an exact match. In the example below I have set a table up with Rating and Bonus – the ratings are listed from 1 to 5, but can actually have any decimal value 1 or above.

When I use VLOOKUP with this data I must set the Range_lookup to TRUE so that it knows it is not looking for an exact match. I have illustrated some results (including a few errors) in the example below.

An example of how to use VLOOKUP to search for non-exact items.
An example of how to use VLOOKUP to search for non-exact items. | Source

Comments

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    • twinstimes2 profile image

      Karen Lackey 6 years ago from Ohio

      I use vlookup all the time my at home job. Great resource for those looking to use this useful formula.

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