The tutorial demonstrates the most efficient ways to find, filter and highlight unique and distinct values in Excel.
In last week's tutorial, we explored different ways to count unique values in Excel. But occasionally you may want to view only unique or distinct values in a column - not how many, but the actual values. Before moving further, let's make sure we are on the same page with the terms. So, what are distinct and what are unique values in Excel?
And now, let's investigate the most efficient techniques to deal with unique and distinct values in your Excel sheets.
The easiest way to identify unique and distinct values in Excel is by using the IF function together with COUNTIF. There can be a few variations of the formula depending on the type of values that you want to find, as demonstrated in the following examples.
To find distinct or unique values in a list, use one of the following formulas, where A2 is the first and A10 is the last cell with data.
How to find unique values in Excel:
=IF(COUNTIF($A$2:$A$10, $A2)=1, "Unique", "")
How to get distinct values in Excel:
=IF(COUNTIF($A$2:$A2, $A2)=1, "Distinct", "")
In the distinct formula, there is just one small deviation in the second cell reference, which however makes a big difference:
Tip. If you'd like to search for unique values between 2 columns, i.e. find values that are present in one column but absent in another, then use the formula explained in How to compare 2 columns for differences.
In a similar manner, you can find unique rows in your Excel table based on values in 2 or more columns. In this case, you need to use the COUNTIFS function instead of COUNTIF to evaluate the values in several columns (up to 127 range/criteria pairs can be evaluated in a single formula).
For example, to find unique or distinct names in the list, use the following formulas:
Formula to get unique rows:
=IF(COUNTIFS($A$2:$A$10, $A2, $B$2:$B$10, $B2)=1, "Unique row", "")
Formula to find distinct rows:
=IF(COUNTIFS($A$2:$A2, $A2, $B$2:$B2, $B2)=1, "Distinct row", "")
If you are working with a data set where case matters, you'd need a bit more trickier array formula.
Finding case-sensitive unique values:
Finding case-sensitive distinct values:
Since both are array formulas, be sure to press Ctrl + Shift + Enter to complete them correctly.
To view only unique or distinct values in the list, filter them out by performing the following steps.
If you have a relatively small list of unique / distinct values, you can simply select it in the usual way using the mouse. If the filtered list contains hundreds or thousands of rows, you can use one of the following time-saving shortcuts.
To quickly select the unique or distinct list including column headers, filter unique values, click on any cell in the unique list, and then press Ctrl + A.
To select distinct or unique values without column headers, filter unique values, select the first cell with data, and press Ctrl + Shift + End to extend the selection to the last cell.
Tip. In some rare cases, mostly on very large workbooks, the above shortcuts may select both visible and invisible cells. To fix this, press either Ctrl + A or Ctrl + Shift + End first, and then press Alt + ; to select only visible cells, ignoring hidden rows.
If you have difficulties with remembering that many shortcuts, use this visual way: select the entire unique / distinct list, then go to the Home tab > Find & Select > Go to Special, and select Visible cells only.
To copy a list of unique values to another location, just do the following:
Whenever you need to highlight anything in Excel based on a certain condition, head right to the Conditional Formatting feature. More detailed information and examples follow below.
The fastest and easiest way to highlight unique values in Excel is to apply the inbuilt conditional formatting rule:
Tip. If you are not happy with any of the predefined formats, click Custom Format... (the last item in the drop-down list) and set the fill and/or font color to your liking.
As you see, highlighting unique values in Excel is the easiest task one could imagine. However, Excel's built-in rule works only for the items that appear in the list only once. If you need to highlight distinct values - unique and 1st duplicate occurrences - you will have to create your own rule based on a formula. You would also need to create a custom rule to highlight unique rows based on the values in one or more columns.
To highlight unique or distinct values in a column, select the data without a column header (you don't want the header to get highlighted, do you?), and create a conditional formatting rule with one of the following formulas.
To highlight the values that appear in a list just once, use the following formula:
Where A2 is the first and A10 is the last cell of the applied range.
To highlight all different values in a column, i.e. unique values and 1st duplicate occurrences, go with the following formula:
Where A2 is the top-most cell of the range.
To create a conditional formatting rule based on a formula, do the following:
For more detailed steps with screenshots, please see the following tutorial: How to create an Excel conditional formatting rules based on another cell value.
The below screenshot demonstrates both rules in action:
To highlight entire rows based on unique values in a specific column, use the formulas for unique and distinct values we used in the previous example, but apply your rule to the whole table rather than to a single column.
The following screenshot demonstrates the rule that highlights rows based on distinct numbers in column A:
If you want to highlight rows based on the values in 2 or more columns, use the COUNTIFS function that allows specifying several criteria in a single formula.
This is how you can find, filter and highlight distinct or unique values in Excel. To consolidate your knowledge, you can download the sample Find Unique Values workbook and reverse-engineer the formulas for better understanding.
As you have just seen, Microsoft Excel provides quite a lot of useful features that can help you identify and highlight unique values in your worksheets. However, all those solutions can hardly be called intuitive and easy-to-use because they requires memorizing a handful of different formulas. Of course, it's no big deal for Excel professionals :) For those Excel users who want to save their time and effort, let me demonstrate a quick and straightforward way to find unique values in Excel.
In this final section of our today's tutorial, we are going to use our Duplicate Remover add-in for Excel. Please don't be confused by the tool's name. Apart from duplicate records, the add-in can perfectly handle unique and distinct entries, and you will make sure of it in a moment.
The wizard will run and the entire table will get selected automatically. So, just click Next to proceed to the next step.
Tip. When using the add-in for the first time, it makes sense to check the Create a backup copy box, just in case.
Tip. If your table has headers, be sure to select the My table has headers box. And if your table may have empty cells, make sure the Skip empty cells option is checked. Both options reside in the upper part of the dialog window and are usually selected by default.
Click the Finish button, and get the result in seconds:
This is how you can find, select and highlight unique values in Excel using our Duplicate Remover add-in. It just couldn't be simpler, right?
If finding duplicate and unique values in Excel is a common part of your daily work, just try this dedupe tool and you will be amazed with the results! Duplicate Remover as well as our other time-saving tools are included with Ultimate Suite for Excel.
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