7 Essential Habits of VLOOKUP Pros

Bottom Line: Learn to master VLOOKUP habits in Excel that are essential for error-free formula writing.

Skill Level: Intermediate

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7 Helpful Habits When Using VLOOKUP

If you've encountered errors while using VLOOKUP in Excel, you're in good company. It's a tough formula to master, so it's good to develop go-to procedures that will eliminate such errors in the future.

Mastering VLOOKUP can significantly boost your productivity and accuracy. That's why I want to share with you 7 essential habits that will help you write VLOOKUP formulas flawlessly and efficiently.

1. Always Use Absolute References for a Table Array

In other words, be sure to drop the anchor.

One common mistake when writing VLOOKUP formulas is forgetting to make the table array an absolute reference. This can lead to errors when copying the formula down.

To avoid this, use the shortcut F4 (or Command + T on Mac) after selecting the table array in your formula to make it an absolute reference.

Make your table array an absolute reference with F4 or Command + T

2. Don't Forget the Range Lookup Argument

The range_lookup argument in VLOOKUP is optional, but specifying it ensures an exact match. Always include FALSE or 0 for an exact match to prevent errors. You can use the shortcut Down Arrow followed by Tab to quickly select FALSE.

range_lookup argument should read FALSE or 0 to return an exact match.

3. Trim Extra Spaces for Accurate Matches

Invisible errors caused by trailing spaces can lead to mismatched values in VLOOKUP. Use the TRIM function to remove extra spaces from text strings before performing the lookup. This ensures accurate matches and prevents errors.

Remove invisible spaces using the TRIM function.

4. Start with Naked VLOOKUPs

Before applying error handling techniques like IFERROR, evaluate your VLOOKUP formulas without them. This allows you to identify and fix errors in the lookup process before implementing error handling.

Write VLOOKUP first, then add IFERROR

5. Understand When to Use VLOOKUP, INDEX MATCH, or XLOOKUP


Knowing when to use each function is crucial for efficient data retrieval. While VLOOKUP is straightforward and quick to write, INDEX MATCH and XLOOKUP offer more flexibility and robustness, especially when dealing with changing data structures.

I think these tutorials will help you understand what I mean:

Check out the video above to learn what two of the world's top Excel pros think about using VLOOKUP versus XLOOKUP.

6. Use Shortcuts for Faster Formula Writing

Speed up your formula writing process by utilizing shortcuts. For instance, use Ctrl + Shift + End to select the entire table array quickly. This reduces the need for manual selection and saves time.

Ctrl + Shift + End 
Select Entire Range

Check out these helpful shortcuts for your lookup functions: Shortcuts for Writing XLOOKUP and VLOOKUP Formulas – Excel Campus

7. Avoid Formula Stuffing for Better Debugging

Instead of cramming multiple VLOOKUP formulas into one cell, separate them into individual cells or helper columns. This makes debugging easier and allows you to identify and fix errors more effectively.

Avoid formula stuffing. Use helper cells.
Click to enlarge

Printable Guide

We've created this one-page guide to help you remember and develop these 7 habits. Hope it's helpful to you!


By adopting these seven habits, you'll streamline your VLOOKUP workflow, minimize errors, and become more proficient in Excel data management. Whether you're analyzing financial data or organizing inventory information, mastering VLOOKUP will make your tasks smoother and more efficient.

Leave a comment with your thoughts on other VLOOKUP habits or tips. Thanks for reading!


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  • ALWAYS EXCELLENT very useful information. Thank you, Jon, for your unselfish sharing of your Excel expertise. Blessings to you and your family!

  • You can also join VLOOKUP and TRIM when you have forgotten spaces in the lookup value. E.g.:

  • SORT works nicely in the Table_Array argument to avoid disorganized rows leading to difficulties.

    Why? Because a physical sort of the table is not always, often not so, possible.

    Further, SORTBY can allow a very custom sort.

    If your computer is old (because I haven’t had such an issue in 15 years with plain vanilla, bog standard Dell computers ordered without any real customization I conclude “old” is the important factor here) and you have a very large table, you can always use the VLOOKUP that is needed, or more usually, is demanded by the boss because he understands what he understands and that’s that, in a VLOOKUP/INDEX arrangement.

    In that, you use INDEX to isolate the two (or more in unusual situations) columns you need, the lookup column and the data column.

    In that order, by the way. This is how one always managed a “Look Left” need with VLOOKUP. INDEX can take a column argument like “{17,3}” and return those columns in that order so that column 17 can be the lookup column and column 3 (i.e.: to its left) the data column.

    One can use the INDEX to isolate the needed for the SORTBY columns along with the lookup (making IT the first column in INDEX’s output) and data columns, if not amongst the sorted columns, and apply SORT/SORTBY to do the sorting on a much smaller data set than large tables with their usual many columns to go with many rows.

    Then wrap the result in your VLOOKUP, or, if it gains you anything, apply another INDEX as a wrapper outputting only the two columns and then the VLOOKUP wrapper.

    And yeah, maybe a lot easier nowadays, or if used to, and allowed, to use INEDEX/MATCH, in the old days.

    But in truth, there are things VLOOKUP can do the XLOOKUP chokes at. Odd things here and there, not gonna try to remember an example, but they cannot be expressed right in XLOOKUP so it fails to get the right results. So it still has relevance, for the inevitable folks who will write that it sucks and should die.

  • Excellent material, very easy to follow and understand. Great tips and tricks. Many thanks Jon!

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