2 Tips To Simplify Interpreting, Maintaining Complex Formulas

Hint: Follow the Correct Order of Operations and Naming Data Ranges.


You may have experience working with formulas that contain a single operator, but do you know how to calculate complex formulas containing more than one operator? Mathematics has a set of rules on how formulas are interpreted, and Excel follows that protocol.

Keep this order in mind when building formulas to ensure accurate results:

(1) Parentheses;

(2) Colon, space, comma;

(3) Negative numbers;

(4) Percentages;

(5) Exponents;

(6) Multiplication and division;

(7) Addition and subtraction; and

(8) Less than, less than or equal to, greater than, greater than or equal to, equal, not equal to.

Note: When a formula includes operators from the same level (e.g., multiplication and division, both level 6), Excel evaluates them from left to right.

How does it work? Applying this order, Excel calculates the equation =(B4+C4)/(B5+C5)*100 as follows: First adding cells B4 and C4, then adding B5 to C5, dividing the first sum by the second sum, and then multiplying the result by 100.

Another Idea: Name That Data!

Name data ranges can help you build formulas more easily by allowing you to apply names—i.e., plain English titles—to a constant value or a cryptic groups of cells.

How does it work? Rather than selecting all the numbers in your Prices column (e.g., cells B4:B12), simply name this group of cells “Prices.” This way, when you’re adding everything in this column, the formula will be =SUM(Prices) as opposed to the less clear =SUM(B4:B12).

This method is even more helpful as you create increasingly complex formulas, using multiple ranges of data—and especially when multiple people will be working with and trying to make sense of the data.

How to name a range: To name a range, select the range. For our example, we selected cells B4:B12. Click once on the Name box, located to the left of the Formula Bar. Type the name of your range and click [Enter].

To use your named range in a formula, begin typing the name of the range until it appears below the formula bar. Double-click on the name to insert it in your formula.

Improve Efficiency By Using Excel Tools and Functions

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Julie Duncan
About Julie Duncan
Julie is a writer and editor who has worked in online and print publishing for 15 years. She has spent much of that time connecting business professionals with the shortcuts and solutions that allow them to use Microsoft Office products more efficiently on the job.