How to Cross Reference Two Lists in Excel: A Step-by-Step Guide

Cross-referencing two lists in Excel can seem like a daunting task, but it’s actually a breeze once you know the steps. This process allows you to compare two lists to see which items appear in both, which can be incredibly useful for a variety of tasks. In just a few simple steps, you can quickly and efficiently cross-reference your data to get the insights you need.

Step by Step Tutorial: How to Cross Reference Two Lists in Excel

Before we dive into the step-by-step process, let’s understand what we’re trying to achieve. Cross-referencing two lists will help you identify matches or differences between the lists, which can be very handy for data analysis, inventory management, or even just keeping track of your personal collections.

Step 1: Set up your Excel Workbook

Prepare two lists in Excel that you want to cross-reference.

Having two lists ready in your Excel workbook is crucial. Make sure each list is in its own column and that they’re aligned so that the data you want to compare is next to each other. It’s also helpful to have headers for each list for clarity.

Step 2: Use the MATCH function

Enter the MATCH function in a new column next to one of the lists.

The MATCH function in Excel searches for a specified item in a range of cells, and then returns the relative position of that item. To use this function to cross-reference your lists, you’ll want to type in the formula where you want your results to appear. It will look something like this: =MATCH(A2, B:B, 0). This formula is searching for the value in cell A2 within column B.

Step 3: Copy the formula down

Drag the formula down to apply it to the entire list.

Once you have your MATCH function set up, you’ll need to copy it down the column so that it applies to every item in your list. You can do this by clicking the small square in the bottom-right corner of the cell with the formula and dragging it down.

Step 4: Analyze the results

Examine the results to identify matches and differences.

After you’ve applied the MATCH function to your list, you’ll see either numbers or errors. Numbers indicate the position in the second list where the match was found, while errors (usually #N/A) mean there was no match. This information allows you to quickly see which items appear on both lists.

Step 5: Use conditional formatting (optional)

Apply conditional formatting to highlight the matches or differences.

If you want to make your results even clearer, you can use Excel’s conditional formatting feature. This allows you to set rules – for example, to highlight cells where a match has been found – which can make your cross-referenced data much easier to read at a glance.

After completing these steps, you’ll be able to see which items from your first list appear in the second list, and which do not. This can help you make decisions based on the data, such as which items need to be restocked or which tasks have already been completed.

Tips for Cross-Referencing Two Lists in Excel

  • Make sure your lists are clean and free of duplicates before beginning to cross-reference; this will give you the most accurate results.
  • If you have a large data set, consider sorting both lists alphabetically before starting the cross-reference process to make it easier to manage.
  • Use the IFERROR function with the MATCH function to make the results more readable (e.g., =IFERROR(MATCH(A2, B:B, 0), “No Match”)).
  • Remember that the MATCH function is case-sensitive, so ensure that your data is consistent in terms of capitalization.
  • If you need to cross-reference more than two lists, consider using the VLOOKUP or INDEX and MATCH functions for more advanced comparisons.

Frequently Asked Questions

What if I get an #N/A error?

This means that the item from your first list is not found in the second list.

Can I use this method to compare more than two lists?

Yes, but for more than two lists, you might want to use VLOOKUP or INDEX and MATCH functions, which are more suited for complex comparisons.

Does the order of the lists matter?

It’s best to have the list you’re searching from as the first list, but you can adjust the MATCH function accordingly if they’re in a different order.

Is there a way to highlight the matches automatically?

Yes, by using conditional formatting, you can set up rules to automatically highlight matches or differences in your lists.

Can I use this method for text and numbers?

Absolutely, the MATCH function works with both text and numbers, just make sure the data is formatted consistently.


  1. Set up your Excel Workbook with the two lists.
  2. Use the MATCH function.
  3. Copy the formula down across the list.
  4. Analyze the results for matches and differences.
  5. (Optional) Use conditional formatting to highlight results.


Cross-referencing two lists in Excel is a powerful skill to have in your arsenal, whether you’re a data analyst, an inventory manager, or just someone who likes to keep things organized. The steps outlined above provide a straightforward method for comparing data, and with a little practice, it’ll become second nature. Remember, the key to successful cross-referencing is in the preparation of your lists and understanding how to manipulate Excel’s functions to get the results you need. If you’re still hungry for more Excel knowledge after mastering how to cross reference two lists in Excel, there are plenty of resources out there to help you continue your learning journey. Happy cross-referencing!

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