How to do a VLOOKUP in Excel: Step-by-Step Guide

VLOOKUP is a powerful Excel function that allows you to look up and retrieve data from a specific column in a table. It’s a handy tool for anyone who needs to compare and analyze data in Excel. To perform a VLOOKUP, you first need to have a table of data with at least two columns. Then, you’ll use the VLOOKUP function to search for a specific value in the first column and return a corresponding value from another column.

Step by Step Tutorial: How to Do a VLOOKUP in Excel

Before we dive into the steps, it’s important to understand that VLOOKUP stands for ‘Vertical Lookup.’ This function searches for a value in the first column of a table and returns a value in the same row from a specified column. Now, let’s get started.

Step 1: Identify the lookup value

This is the value you want to search for in the first column of your table.

The lookup value is typically a cell reference, like A2 or B3, but it can also be a specific value like “apple” or the number 10.

Step 2: Open the VLOOKUP function

To do this, click on the cell where you want the retrieved data to appear, then type =VLOOKUP(.

Once you start typing, Excel will display a list of functions. You can select VLOOKUP from the list or continue typing it out.

Step 3: Enter the lookup value

After the opening parenthesis, add the lookup value (from step 1) followed by a comma.

Remember, this value must be in the first column of your table, or Excel won’t be able to find it.

Step 4: Define the table array

The table array is the range of cells that contains the data you want to search.

Type in the range of cells that makes up your table, like A1:B10, and follow it with a comma. Be sure to include all the columns that have the data you want to return.

Step 5: Specify the column index number

This is the number of the column in the table array from which to retrieve the value.

Count the columns in your table array from left to right, starting with 1. Enter the number of the column that contains the data you want to return, then add another comma.

Step 6: Determine the range lookup

Decide whether you need an approximate or exact match.

For an exact match, type FALSE. For an approximate match, type TRUE. Then close the function with a parenthesis.

After you complete these steps, Excel will return the value from the table that corresponds to your lookup value. If the function doesn’t find a match, it will return an error message.

Tips: Mastering VLOOKUP in Excel

  • Always ensure your lookup value is in the first column of your table array.
  • Remember to use quotation marks around text values in the VLOOKUP function.
  • If you’re using a range of cells for your table array, lock it using the $ symbol to prevent it from changing if you copy the formula to another cell.
  • Double-check the column index number to ensure you’re pulling data from the correct column.
  • If you’re getting error messages, double-check that you’ve selected the correct range lookup option (TRUE or FALSE).

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between TRUE and FALSE in the range lookup?

TRUE returns an approximate match, while FALSE returns an exact match. If you use TRUE but there’s no close match, Excel will return the closest value that’s less than the lookup value.

Can VLOOKUP search for data horizontally?

No, VLOOKUP only searches vertically in the first column of a table. For horizontal searches, use the HLOOKUP function.

What do I do if VLOOKUP returns an #N/A error?

This means Excel can’t find your lookup value in the first column of the table array. Check for typos or use the FALSE option for an exact match.

Can I use VLOOKUP to return a value from the left of the lookup value?

No, VLOOKUP can only return values from the right of the lookup value. To retrieve values from the left, use the INDEX and MATCH functions together.

Can I use a cell reference as a lookup value?

Yes, you can use a cell reference, which makes the VLOOKUP function more dynamic as the lookup value can change based on the cell’s content.


  1. Identify the lookup value.
  2. Open the VLOOKUP function.
  3. Enter the lookup value.
  4. Define the table array.
  5. Specify the column index number.
  6. Determine the range lookup.


Mastering the VLOOKUP function in Excel can significantly improve your data analysis and productivity. It’s a versatile tool that can save you time and prevent errors when working with large sets of data. By following the simple steps outlined in this article, you can start harnessing the power of VLOOKUP in your spreadsheets. Remember, practice makes perfect, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t get it right the first time. Keep experimenting with different datasets and scenarios to become more comfortable with the function. For further learning, explore variations of VLOOKUP, such as combining it with other functions to perform more complex tasks. Happy Excel-ing!

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