How to Search Data Validation Drop-down Lists in Excel

Bottom line: Learn a fast and easy way to search any data validation list or in-cell drop-down list with a free tool.

Skill level: Beginner

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Data validation lists are a great way to control the values that are input in a cell.  These drop-down lists also allow us to choose options that can drive financial models, reports, or dashboards.

However, there is no built-in way to search the validation list in Excel.  It can be difficult to scroll through these lists when the drop-down contains a lot of items.  There are some really cool formula based solutions to this problem, but they require a lot of setup work for each validation list in your file.

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So I developed a very simple add-in that helps solve this problem…

Video Overview of List Search

Click here to download the List Search Add-in

Click the links below to jump down to the feature update videos.

Search Validation Lists with List Search

The List Search Add-in makes it fast and easy to search any validation list.  It also works with lists of data that do not contain data validation cells.

List Search Add-in Drop-down List Contains Data Validation List of Items

The List Search form contains a drop-down box that loads the selected cell's validation list.  The drop-down box also functions as a search box.  You can type a search in the box and the results will be narrowed down as you type.  This is a Google-like search and the results will include any item that contains the search term.  The item does not have to start with the search term.

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Once you have selected the item you are looking for, press Enter on the keyboard or press the Input Value button on the form to input the value in the selected cell.

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List Search works on any cell in any workbook.  There is NO special setup required.  Simply select a cell, press the List Search button, and start searching the list.

List Search Options & Features

The List Search Add-in contains some features that make it super fast to do data entry and work with your lists.  Press the Menu button in the List Search window to see the options.

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  • Select Next Cell – After pressing the Enter key or Input Value button, the cell below the active cell is selected.  This behavior can be changed in the direction drop-down menu.
    • Down – selects the cell below the active cell.
    • Right – selects the cell to the right of the active cell.
    • None – does not change the selection.
    • Close – closes the List Search window.
    • Paste – Copies the input value to the clipboard and pastes it to the active cell using the VBA SendKeys method.  The List Search Window closes.  This is the only option that retains the undo history in Excel.
  • Sort Order – The drop-down list can be sorted in ascending (A-Z), descending (Z-A), or original order by pressing the toggle buttons in the options menu.  This only sorts the list in the List Search window.  It does not sort the data validation list in the cell.
  • List Info – The Info button displays additional information about the drop-down list.  It currently displays the total number of items in the list.
  • Create List of Unique Values – A new button has been added that copies the contents of the drop-down list to the clipboard.  You can then paste the list to any range in the workbook.  This is a fast way to create a list of unique values when you use List Search on a cell that does NOT contain data validation.  You can also filter the list by typing a search, then copy the filtered list to the clipboard.

IMPORTANT Note: When inputting values to the active cell, the only way to retain the Undo History is by using the Paste option in the Select Next Cell drop-down list.  List Search uses macros to input the selected value, and macros typically clear the undo history in Excel when they modify the workbook.  The Paste option is a workaround that uses the SendKeys method to copy and paste the selected value.  This mimics what the user would do to copy/paste, and does NOT clear the Undo history in Excel.

Works on Lists Without Data Validation

List Search works on cells that do not contain data validation too.  If you select a cell that does NOT contain data validation and open List Search, the drop-down will be loaded with a list of unique items from the column of the selected cell.

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This is similar to pressing Alt+Down Arrow in a cell to see a list of values in that column.  However, the list does not need to be contiguous.  Even if the column contains blanks, List Search will still load all the unique values in the current data region or list.

November 2016 Update

I published an updated version of the List Search Add-in with a few new features.  Here is a video overview of the new features.

Here is a list of the features.

  1. Added a “Paste” option to the directions list.  This will copy the input value to the clipboard and paste it to the activecell.  The Paste options uses the SendKeys method in VBA to perform the paste.  This means the Undo history will NOT be cleared when using the Paste Option.
  2. Settings for the Options Menu and Input Direction Drop-down are now saved to the registry.  Your preferences will be saved and loaded when you open Excel and the add-in again in the future.
  3. Added enhancements for Excel Tables. When the activecell is in a Table and the cell does not contain validation, a unique list of values will be loaded and exclude the Table headers and total row.
  4. Added Copy List feature that copies the contents of the drop-down list to the clipboard. This feature is used to create a list of unique values from a column/table when the activecell does not contain validation. It also works when the list is filtered with a search term to only copy filtered results.

April 2017 Update

Based on your awesome feedback and requests, I'm excited to publish another update with new features.  I share the new features in the following video.

Here is a list of the new features in the April 2017 update.

  1. It added the Auto Open feature to automatically open the form when a cell that contains data validation is selected. You can toggle this option on/off with a toggle button in the options menu.
  2.  The add-in now works with data validation created by formulas (OFFSET & INDEX) and comma separated lists.  It should work with all types of data validation lists.
  3. Updated Escape Key behavior to close the List Search window.  If there is text in the search box, then Escape clears the search box.  If the search box is empty, then Escape closes the form.

In the video I also showed some cells with drop-down button icons next to them, even though the cell was not selected.  Check out my article on how to make the validation list drop-down buttons always visible to learn more about this technique.

Download the List Search Add-in (it's Free!)

The List Search Add-in is free to download and use.  The VBA code is also open source so you can modify it for your needs.  This is also a great way to learn how macros and add-ins work if you are learning VBA.

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Click here to download the List Search Add-in

Note: You will create a free account for the Excel Campus Members site to access the download and any future updates.

The download site also contains installation instructions and videos.

How Can My Co-workers Use List Search?

The List Search Add-in is installed on your computer, and only you will be able to see the XL Campus tab and use List Search.  If you want your co-workers to be able to use List Search there are two ways to go about it.

  1. Send them a link to this page to download and install List Search on their computer.  They will be able to use List Search on any Excel file they have open on their computer.
  2. Import the List Search userform to the VB Project in your Excel file.  You can add the List Search form to any of your workbooks.  This must be a macro enabled workbook.  You will also need to create or import the code module that contains the macro to open the List Search userform.  Then add a button to the worksheet or ribbon that opens the form.  There is a video on the download site that walks through this entire process.  Once you opt-in to download the add-in you will receive a free account to access the Excel Campus Members Area and the download site.

How Can We Make List Search Better?

I hope the List Search Add-in saves you some time searching data validation lists.  The ultimate goal is to make it faster to find the value we are looking for in long lists of data.  Please leave a comment below with any questions or suggestions.  Thank you! 🙂

  • Hi guys, love the add-in, however it does not appear in the ribbon when I reopen Excel O365. I need to disable the add-in, add it again and it then appears.
    Do you know if I need to do something to make it appear every time?

    Thanks

  • Hi, Jon!
    How to use the List Search Add-in for depending (cascade) drop-down list (with INDIRECT() )?

    By clicking I get: “Error Evaluating Validation Formula. There is an error with the validation formula. Please fix the error in the Data Validation window.” and stop “List Search Add-in”.

    Have you any answer?

  • Loving this tool – thanks very much.

    I am having trouble with a list about 90,000 entries long. I know a value is in the list but the list search function is not finding it.

    Is there a maximum length list it will search?

    Any thoughts appreciated.

  • Thank for a great tool.
    By the way, please advise me how to edit the appearing position of combo box. Sometime, I choose the low cell, combo box appear out of screen.

  • Hi Jon,
    This addin saved my life. It is the only addon available in the world to do such job. I have one suggestion though,
    Is it possible to display combo box in cell only (like google sheets). Just select the cell having data validation list and start typing, As soon as we select the cell it becomes combo box and shows the list of items filtered as per typed characters. No need to click and open combo box in different window, (I known addon has a feature to open automatically if it detects the data validation in list, but in that case it opens for every small and long list, whereas we only need it when there is a long list). if somebody needs to change some settings it could be done by going to list search addon settings.

    There is one such video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eB7aedJ9RVI

    Such feature should be there by default in MS Excel, but excel development team is damn lazy. Thanks to people like you who saved tons of people facing issues.

    • Great Idea,
      Jon you should consider this seriously. This can be a forward and unique step towards better excel. No such solution available anywhere, you can do this. Comeon.

  • This is the right site for everyone who really wants to find out about this topic.
    You understand a whole lot its almost hard to
    argue with you (not that I actually would want to…HaHa).
    You certainly put a new spin on a subject that’s been written about for ages.
    Wonderful stuff, just great!

  • This add in made life so much easier and made reporting much easier for my employees. I had multiple lists of about 1000 entries and this sorts it perfect.

    The issue I am facing though is that in Office 365 the add on, after being installed vanishes the next time I open the sheet. So everytime my sales staff opens the sheet the next week for their resports they have to install the add in all over again. Is anyone else facing the same issue. Is there any way to resolve this?

  • This is the perfect addin for this purpose. i have tried several but this one is the father of all. Is it possible to append a keyboard shortcut like the way we do with save (CTRL S) or new (CTRL N)
    It will make it even more fancy. i love your geneous

  • Is it compatible with Office 365? it give me an error, the function btnListSerch_onAction is not available or macro is not enabled

    Thanks for this grate tool

  • it would be nice if there woud be an option on pressing enter that insted of entering the info in the cell it should find it for you

  • Can list search be used on a spreadsheet housed in MS Teams? My team would not be opening the spreadsheet in the app. They have to use the MS Teams interface.

  • Did install the search list incorrectly – I would like the ExcelCampus menu to always show up/be there when I open up Excel, even if, there are no list. Even if it is a new workbook.

  • Jon,

    I wanted to download the List Search Add-in, it keeps looping and asking me to register taking me to the page where the video plays and where you have to put your email and contact info, however, never actually gives a link to download. I am in Excel Elevate program. Please, assist.

  • Thanks for tutorial,
    I made a template about the searchable data validation drop down lists using Vba code and formulas. I wanted to share it and hopefully it will work for someone.

    VBA codes to sort data:
    Private Sub Worksheet_Deactivate()

    Range(“A2:C” & Rows.Count).Sort Range(“A2″), xlAscending

    End Sub

    Formula for the searchable data validation list:
    =OFFSET(Product!$A$2,MATCH($A17&”*”,Products_1,0)-1,,COUNTIF(Products_1,$A17&”*”),)

    Details and sample file at:https://eksi30.com/excelde-gelismis-fatura-dizayni/

  • I previously added your add-in to my Excel, but now the Excel Campus tab is gone. It stills shows the add-in as being activated under the Add-ins under options.

  • Really terrific!! So helpful to our nonprofit staff trying to search through client names each month to satisfy funders. It made me look like a hero, so thank you. I would also love to use this on timesheets to make it easier for staff but the List Search list does not retain the same formatting as the data validation list. It presents the times (9:00, 9:15,…) as decimals. Is there a way to change what I’ve done to make that work? Thanks again very much!!

  • Hi Jon,
    Iconic solution for the shortfall of Excel’s built in drop down options, thanks a lot for such a wonderful tool.

    I would like to share some of my observations, i have read the comments section but couldn’t find someone who has reported these (May be it happens only in my workbook).

    1. Once i have updated couple of cells using the list search i press Esc key to unload the form, i have to repeat pressing the Esc key continuously (the no of times i used the tool to update value those many times i have to press the Esc key).

    2. Move_Form actually doesn’t fit with the activecell when the worksheet is having freeze panes or some rows and columns were hidden already.

  • In list search Can an array column of other sheet be the source of data instead of the data from column of input?

  • Hi Jon,

    First of all, I love using your list search, and it works like a charm in excel! However, when uploading my file to Microsoft OneDrive, The add-in does not work and does not get uploaded. Is there a method to get list search to work in OneDrive?

  • We use a lot of data validation lists as well as filters in our organisation. The list search is appearing on every cell that is filtered and every cell with data validation. Is there a way to disable the list search for certain conditions – such as when filters are being used.

    • Same, I uninstalled the add-in. My Excel freezes a lot and the startup is very slow. Looking forward to a solution, I really like this add-in, it helps me a lot.

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    Hello and welcome! My name is Jon Acampora and I'm here to help you learn Excel.

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