How to split cells in Excel: Text to Columns, Flash Fill and formulas

How do you split a cell in Excel? By using the Text to Columns feature, Flash Fill, formulas or Split Text tool. This tutorial outlines all the options to help you choose the technique best suited for your particular task.

Generally, you may need to divide cells in Excel in two cases. Most often, when you import data from some external source where all information is in one column while you want it in separate columns. Or, you may want to separate cells in an existing table for better filtering, sorting or a detailed analysis.

How to split cells in Excel using Text to Columns

The Text to Columns feature comes in really handy when you need to divide a single cell into two or more cells. It allows splitting text strings by a specified delimiter such as comma, semicolon or space as well as separating substrings of a fixed length. Let's see how each scenario works.

How to separate cells in Excel by delimiter

Suppose, you have a list of participants where a participant name, country and expected arrival date are all in the same column: Data in one cell to be split into several cells

What we want is to separate data in one cell into several cells such as First Name, Last Name, Country, Arrival Date and Status. To have it done, perform the following steps:

  1. If you want to put the split cells in the middle of your table, start by inserting a new column(s) to avoid overwriting your existing data.

    In this example, we have inserted 3 new columns like shown in the screenshot below: Insert a new column(s) to avoid overwriting your existing data.

    If you don't have any data next to the column you want to separate, skip this step.

  2. Select the cells you want to divide, navigate to the Data tab > Data Tools group, and click the Text to Columns button. Click Text to Columns on the Data tab.
  3. In the first step of the Convert Text to Columns wizard, you choose how to split cells - by delimiter or width.

    In our case, the cell contents are separated with spaces and commas, so we select Delimited, and click Next. Choose how to separate cells - by delimiter or width.

  4. In the next step, you specifythe delimiters and, optionally, text qualifier.

    You can choose one or more predefined delimiters as well as type your own one in the Other box. In this example, we select Space and Comma: Choose one or more predefined delimiters or type your own one.


    • Treat consecutive delimiters as one. Be sure to select this option when your data may contain two or more delimiters in a row, e.g. when there are a few consecutive spaces between words or the data is separate by a comma and a space, like "Smith, John".
    • Specifying the text qualifier. Use this option when some text is enclosed in single or double quotes, and you'd like such portions of text to be inseparable. For example, if you choose a comma (,) as the delimiter and a quotation mark (") as the text qualifier, then any words enclosed in double quotes, e.g. "California, USA", will be put into one cell as California, USA. If you select {none} as the text qualifier, then "California will be distributed into one cell (together with an opening quotation mark) and USA" into another (together with a closing mark).
    • Data preview. Before you click the Next button, it stands to reason to scroll through the Data preview section to make sure Excel has split all cells contents right.
  5. Just two more things are left for you to do - choose the data format and specify where you want to paste split data:
    • Data format. By default, the General format is set for all columns, which works well in most cases. In our example, we need the Data format for the arrival dates. To change the data format for a particular column, click on that column under Data preview to select it, and then choose one of the formats under Column data format (please see the screenshot below).
    • Destination. To tell Excel where you want to output the separated data, click the Collapse Dialog icon Collapse Dialog button next to the Destination box and select the top-leftmost cell of the destination range, or type a cell reference directly in the box. Please be very careful with this option, and make sure there are enough empty columns right to the destinaton cell. Set the desired format for split cells.


    • If you do not want to import some column that appears in the data preview, select that column and check Do not import column (skip) radio button under Column data format.
    • It is not possible to import the split data to another spreadsheet or workbook. If you attempt to do this, you will get the invalid destination error.
  6. Finally, click the Finish button and you are done! As shown in the below screenshot, Excel has perfectly split the contents of one cell into several cells: Data in one cell is split into several cells.

How to split text of a fixed width

This section explains how to divide a cell in Excel based on the number of characters you specify. To make things easier to understand, please consider the following example.

Supposing, you have Product IDs and Product names in one column and you want to extract the IDs into a separate column: Product IDs and Product names to be separated into 2 columns

Since all of the product IDs contain 9 characters, the Fixed width option fits perfectly for the job:

  1. Start the Convert Text to Columns wizard as explained in the above example. In the first step of the wizard, choose Fixed width and click Next. Choose Fixed width and click Next.
  2. Set the width of each column by using the Data preview section. As shown in the screenshot below, a vertical line represents a column break, and to create a new break line, you simply click at the desired position (9 characters in our case): Set the columns' widths using the data preview section.

    To remove the break, double-click a line; to move a break in another position, simply drag the line with the mouse.

  3. In the next step, choose the data format and destination for the split cells exactly as we did in the previous example, and click the Finish button to complete the separation.

How to separate cells Excel with Flash Fill

Begining with Excel 2013, you can benefit from the Flash Fill feature that can not only automatically populate cells with data, but also split cell contents.

Let's take a column of data from our first example and see how Excels' Flash Fill can help us split a cell in half:

  1. Insert a new column next to the column with the original data and type the desired part of the text in the first cell (participant name in this example).
  2. Type the text in a couple more cells. As soon as Excel senses a pattern, it will populate similar data into other cells automatically. In our case, it's taken 3 cells for Excel to figure out a pattern: Separate cells in Excel with Flash Fill.
  3. If you are happy with what you see, press the Enter key, and all the names will be copied to a separate column at once.

How to split cell in Excel with formulas

Whatever diverse information your cells may contain, a formula to split a cell in Excel boils down to finding a position of the delimiter (comma, space, etc.) and extracting a substring before, after or in-between the delimiters. Generally, you'd use SEARCH or FIND functions to determine the delimiter's location and one of the Text functions (LEFT, RIGHT or MID) to get a substring.

For example, you'd use the following formulas to split data in cell A2 separated with a comma and space (please see the screenshot below):

To extract the name in B2:

=LEFT(A2, SEARCH(",",A2)-1)

To extract the country in C2:

=RIGHT(A2,LEN(A2)-SEARCH(",",A2)-1) Divide a cell in Excel using formulas

For the detailed explanation of the logic and more formula examples to divide cells in Excel, please check out the following resources:

Split cells using Split Text feature

Now that you are familiar with the inbuilt features, let me show you an alternative way to split cells in Excel. I mean the Split Text tool included with our Ultimate Suite for Excel. It can perform the following operations:

  • Split cell by character
  • Split cell by string
  • Split cell by mask (pattern)

For example, splitting the participant details in one cell into several cells can be done in 2 quick steps:

  1. Select the cells you want to separate, and click the Split Text icon on the Ablebits Data tab, in the Text The Split Text tool
  2. On the Split Text pane, configure the following options:
    • Under Split by character, select Comma and Space as the delimiters.
    • Select the Treat consecutive delimiters as one check box.
    • Under Choose how to split cells, select Split to columns.
    • Click the Split button.
    Splitting cells by comma and space as the delimiters

Done! Four new columns with the split data are inserted between the original columns, and you only need to give those columns appropriate names: The original cells are split into 4 separate columns.


If you are curious to see the Split Text and Split Names tools in action, we are welcome to download a 14-day trial version of our Ultimate Suite for Excel.
I thank you for reading and hope to see you on our blog next week!