The tutorial explains how to do Data Validation in Excel: create a validation rule for numbers, dates or text values, make data validation lists, copy data validation to other cells, find invalid entries, fix and remove data validation.
When setting up a workbook for your users, you may often want to control information input into specific cells to make sure all data entries are accurate and consistent. Among other things, you may want to allow only particular data type such as numbers or dates in a cell, or limit numbers to a certain range and text to a given length. You may even want to provide a predefined list of acceptable entries to eliminate possible mistakes. Excel Data Validation allows you to do all these things in all versions of Microsoft Excel 365, 2021, 2019, 2016, 20013, 2010 and lower.
Excel Data Validation is a feature that restricts (validates) user input to a worksheet. Technically, you create a validation rule that controls what kind of data can be entered into a certain cell.
Here are just a few examples of what Excel's data validation can do:
For instance, you can set up a rule that limits data entry to 4-digit numbers between 1000 and 9999. If the user types something different, Excel will show an error alert explaining what they have done wrong:
To add data validation in Excel, perform the following steps.
Select one or more cells to validate, go to the Data tab > Data Tools group, and click the Data Validation button.
You can also open the Data Validation dialog box by pressing Alt > D > L, with each key pressed separately.
On the Settings tab, define the validation criteria according to your needs. In the criteria, you can supply any of the following:
As an example, let's make a rule that restricts users to entering a whole number between 1000 and 9999:
With the validation rule configured, either click OK to close the Data Validation window or switch to another tab to add an input message or/and error alert.
If you want to display a message that explains to the user what data is allowed in a given cell, open the Input Message tab and do the following:
As soon as the user selects the validated cell, the following message will show up:
In addition to the input message, you can show one of the following error alerts when invalid data is entered in a cell.
The strictest alert type that prevents users from entering invalid data.
You click Retry to type a different value or Cancel to remove the entry.
Warns users that the data is invalid, but does not prevent entering it.
You click Yes to input the invalid entry, No to edit it, or Cancel to remove the entry.
The most permissive alert type that only informs users about an invalid data entry.
You click OK to enter the invalid value or Cancel to remove it from the cell.
To configure a custom error message, go to the Error Alert tab and define the following parameters:
And now, if the user enters invalid data, Excel will display a special alert explaining the error (like shown in the beginning of this tutorial).
Note. If you do not type your own message, the default Stop alert with the following text will show up: This value does not match the data validation restrictions defined for this cell.
When adding a data validation rule in Excel, you can choose one of the predefined settings or specify custom criteria based on your own validation formula. Below we will discuss each of the built-in options, and next week we will have a closer look at Excel data validation with custom formulas in a separate tutorial.
As you already know, the validation criteria are defined on the Settings tab of the Data Validation dialog box (Data tab > Data Validation).
To restrict data entry to a whole number or decimal, select the corresponding item in the Allow box. And then, choose one of the following criteria in the Data box:
For example, this is how you create an Excel validation rule that allows any whole number greater than 0:
To validate dates, select Date in the Allow box, and then pick an appropriate criteria in the Data box. There are quite a lot of predefined options to choose from: allow only dates between two dates, equal to, greater than or less than a specific date, and more.
Similarly, to validate times, select Time in the Allow box, and then define the required criteria.
For example, to allow only dates between Start date in B1 and End date in B2, apply this Excel date validation rule:
To validate entries based on today's data and current time, make your own data validation formulas as shown in these examples:
To allow data entry of a specific length, select Text length in the Allow box, and choose the validation criteria in accordance with your business logic.
For example, to limit the input to 10 characters, create this rule:
Note. The Text length option limits the number of characters but not the data type, meaning the above rule will allow both text and numbers under 10 characters or 10 digits, respectively.
To add a drop-down list of items to a cell or a group of cells, select the target cells and do the following:
The resulting Excel data validation list will look similar to this:
Note. Please be careful with the Ignore blank option, which is selected by default. If you are creating a drop-down list based on a named range that has at least one blank cell, selecting this check box allows entering any value in the validated cell. In many situations, it is also true for validation formulas: if a cell referenced in the formula is blank, any value will be allowed in the validated cell.
Supplying comma-separated lists directly in the Source box is the fastest way that works well for small dropdowns that are unlikely to ever change. In other scenarios, you can proceed with one of the following ways:
In addition to built-in Excel data validation rules discussed in this tutorial, you can create custom rules with your own data validation formulas. Here are just a few examples:
For more examples, please see Custom data validation rules and formulas.
To change an Excel validation rule, perform these steps:
For instance, you can edit your Excel data validation list by adding or removing items from the Source box, and have these changes applied to all other cells containing the same drop-down list:
If you've configured data validation for one cell and wish to validate other cells with the same criteria, you don't have to re-create the rule from scratch.
To copy the validation rule in Excel, perform these 4 quick steps:
Alternatively, press the Paste Special > Validation shortcut: Ctrl + Alt + V, then N.
Tip. Instead of copying data validation to other cells, you can convert your dataset to an Excel table. As you add more rows to the table, Excel will apply your validation rule to new rows automatically.
To quickly locate all validated cells in the current worksheet, go to the Home tab > Editing group, and click Find & Select > Data Validation:
This will select all cells that have any data validation rules applied to them:
Overall, there are two ways to remove validation in Excel: the standard approach designed by Microsoft and the mouse-free technique devised by Excel geeks who would never take their hands off the keyboard unless absolutely necessary (e.g. to take a cup of coffee :)
Normally, to remove data validation in Excel worksheets, you proceed with these steps:
As you see, the standard method is pretty fast but does require a few mouse clicks, no big deal as far as I'm concerned. But if you prefer working with the keyboard over a mouse, you may find the following approach appealing.
De jure, Excel Paste Special is designed for pasting specific elements of copied cells. De facto, it can do many more useful things. Among others, it can quickly remove data validation rules in a worksheet. Here's how:
Now that you know the basics of data validation in Excel, let me share a few tips that can make your rules a whole lot more effective.
Instead of typing values directly in the criteria boxes, you can enter them in some cells, and then refer to those cells. If you decide to change the validation conditions later, you will simply type new numbers on the sheet, without having to edit the rule.
To enter a cell reference, either type it in the box preceded by an equal sign, or click the arrow next to the box, and then select the cell using the mouse. You can also click anywhere within the box, and then select the cell on the sheet.
For example, to allow any whole number other than the number in A1, pick the not equal to criteria in the Data box and type
=$A$1 in the Value box:
To take a step further, you can enter a formula in the referenced cell, and have Excel validate the input based on that formula.
For example, to restrict users to entering dates after today's date, enter the
=TODAY() formula in some cell, say B1, and then set up a Date validation rule based on that cell:
Or, you can enter the
=TODAY() formula directly in the Start date box, which will have the same effect.
In situations when it's not possible to define a desired validation criteria based on a value or cell reference, you can express it using a formula.
For example, to limit the entry to the minimum and maximum values in the existing list of numbers, say A1:A10, use the following formulas:
Please pay attention that we lock the range by using the $ sign (absolute cell references) so that our Excel validation rule works correctly for all selected cells.
Although Microsoft Excel allows applying data validation to cells that already have data in them, it won't notify you if some of the existing values do not meet the validation criteria.
To find invalid data that had made its way into your worksheets before you added data validation, go to the Data tab, and click Data Validation > Circle Invalid Data.
This will highlight all cells that don't meet the validation criteria:
As soon as you correct an invalid entry, the circle will be gone automatically. To remove all circles, go to the Data tab, and click Data Validation > Clear Validation Circles.
In case you'd like to protect worksheet or workbook with password, configure the desired data validation settings first, and then protect the sheet. It is important that you unlock validated cells prior to protecting the worksheet, otherwise your users won't be able to enter any data in those cells. For the detailed guidelines, please see How to unlock certain cells on a protected sheet.
To allow multiple users to collaborate on the workbook, be sure to share the workbook after you have done data validation. After sharing the workbook your data validation rules will keep working, but you won't be able to change them, nor to add new rules.
If data validation isn't working properly in your worksheets, it's most likely because of one of the following reasons.
Data validation in Excel is designed to prohibit typing invalid data directly in a cell, but it cannot stop users from copying invalid data. Though there is no way to disable copy/paste shortcuts (other than by using VBA), you can at least prevent copying data by dragging and dropping cells. To do this, go to File > Options > Advanced > Editing options, and clear the Enable fill handle and cell drag-and-drop check box.
The Data Validation command is unavailable (greyed out) if you are entering or changing data in a cell. After you've finished editing the cell, press Enter or Esc to quit the edit mode, and then do data validation.
Although the existing validation rules keep working in protected and shared workbooks, it's not possible to change data validation settings or set up new rules. To do this, unshare and/or unprotect your workbook first.
When doing formula-based data validation in Excel, there are three important things to check:
For more information, please see Custom data validation rule not working.
If the Manual Calculation mode is turned on in your Excel, uncalculated formulas can prevent data from being validated correctly. To change the Excel calculation option back to automatic, go to the Formulas tab > Calculation group, click the Calculation Options button, and then click Automatic.
For more information, please see Automatic calculation vs. Manual calculation.
That's how you add and use data validation in Excel. I thank you for reading and hope to see you on our blog next week!
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