How to Compare Two Columns in Excel: A Step-by-Step Guide

So you’ve got two columns in Excel and you need to compare them. Don’t worry, it’s not as tricky as it sounds. All you need is a simple formula, and I’ll show you how. After reading this, you’ll be able to quickly find matches or differences between two columns with ease.

Step by Step Tutorial: How to Compare Two Columns in Excel

Before we dive into the nitty-gritty, let’s understand what we’re aiming to achieve. By comparing two columns in Excel, we can identify duplicate or unique values. This could be useful in various scenarios, such as reconciling lists or identifying inconsistencies.

Step 1: Select Your Comparison Formula

There are multiple formulas you can use to compare two columns in Excel, but we’ll focus on two: the EXACT function for an exact match and the IF function for a more conditional approach.

The EXACT function is case-sensitive and will return TRUE if the values in both cells are identical. On the other hand, the IF function allows you to set conditions and outcomes for your comparison, such as returning “Match” or “No Match”.

Step 2: Apply the Formula to Your Data

Enter your chosen formula in a new column next to the ones you’re comparing. For the EXACT function, the syntax is =EXACT(cell1, cell2). For the IF function, an example syntax could be =IF(cell1=cell2, "Match", "No Match").

Once you’ve inputted the formula, drag the fill handle (the small square at the bottom-right of the cell) down to apply the formula to all the rows you wish to compare. Watch as Excel does its magic.

Step 3: Analyze Your Results

After applying the formula to your data, you’ll have a new column showing whether each pair of cells matches. TRUE or “Match” indicates a match, while FALSE or “No Match” indicates a discrepancy.

You can now filter or sort your data based on this new column to further analyze the results. This could help you isolate duplicates or unique entries, depending on what you’re looking for.

After completing the comparison, you’ll have a clear view of how the two columns stack up against each other. Whether you’re de-duplicating a list or validating data, this process is invaluable for ensuring accuracy and consistency in your work.

Tips: Enhancing Your Excel Comparison Skills

  • Always ensure your data is clean and formatted correctly before comparing to avoid false mismatches.
  • Use the CONCATENATE function to combine multiple columns before comparing them if needed.
  • The COUNTIF function is useful for finding how many times a value appears in a column.
  • Conditional formatting can highlight duplicates or unique values visually for easier analysis.
  • Excel functions are case-sensitive, so consider using UPPER or LOWER to standardize text before comparison.

Frequently Asked Questions

What if I want to compare more than two columns?

You can compare multiple columns by extending the formula. With IF function, you can add additional conditions using AND or OR functions. For exact matches across multiple columns, you’d need to concatenate the columns first and then use the EXACT function.

Can I compare two columns for similar, but not exact, values?

Yes, you can use the IF and SEARCH functions together to find cells that contain similar values or partial matches. The syntax might look something like =IF(ISNUMBER(SEARCH(cell1, cell2)), "Similar", "Not Similar").

How do I highlight the differences in Excel?

Excel’s conditional formatting feature can highlight cells that differ. Select your data, go to the ‘Home’ tab, choose ‘Conditional Formatting’, select ‘Highlight Cell Rules’, and then choose ‘Text That Contains…’ or any other rule that suits your comparison.

Can I compare two columns from different Excel files?

Absolutely. Just ensure you reference the correct file and worksheet before the cell address in your formula. The syntax will look like =[Workbook1.xlsx]Sheet1!$A$1.

How do I compare two columns and return a value from a third column?

Use the VLOOKUP or INDEX MATCH functions. These will search for a value in one column and return the corresponding value from another column. This is particularly useful for reconciling data across different tables.


  1. Select Your Comparison Formula
  2. Apply the Formula to Your Data
  3. Analyze Your Results


Comparing two columns in Excel might initially seem daunting, but it’s a piece of cake with the right approach. Whether you’re sorting through a database, cleaning up a mailing list, or just trying to make sense of a jumble of numbers, knowing how to compare columns is a vital skill. Remember to keep your data tidy, use the appropriate formula, and interpret the results correctly. There’s a wealth of information hidden in those cells, waiting to be discovered with a simple comparison. So the next time you’re faced with two columns that need a face-off, don’t despair. Embrace the challenge, fire up Excel, and get comparing. Who knows what insights you might uncover?

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