How to Use VLOOKUP in Excel: A Step-by-Step Guide

VLOOKUP is a powerful Excel function that can save you a ton of time when you need to find data in a table or a range by row. It stands for ‘Vertical Lookup’ and is used to look for a value in the first column of a table, and then return a value in the same row from another column. It’s like having a super-smart assistant who can instantly find the information you need in a huge spreadsheet.

Step by Step Tutorial on How to Use VLOOKUP in Excel

Before we dive into the steps, let’s understand what we are going to achieve here. By following these steps, you’ll be able to use VLOOKUP to search for a specific piece of data within a table and return a corresponding value from another column.

Step 1: Identify the Lookup Value

The lookup value is the data you want to search for in the first column of the table.

When you’re selecting your lookup value, make sure it’s unique and exactly matches one of the values in the first column of your table. If there are duplicates, VLOOKUP will only return the first match it finds.

Step 2: Determine the Table Array

The table array is the range of columns where VLOOKUP will search for the lookup value and return the related data.

Make sure your table array is set up correctly, with the data you’re looking for in the first column. The column from which you want to retrieve data should also be part of this array.

Step 3: Specify the Column Index Number

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

Count the columns from the left, starting with the first column as number 1, to determine the column index number. This tells VLOOKUP which column to return the value from.

Step 4: Define the Range Lookup

Decide whether you want an exact match or an approximate match.

For an exact match, use FALSE or 0. This tells VLOOKUP to return only exact matches to your lookup value. For an approximate match, use TRUE or 1, which is useful when working with numerical ranges.

After completing these steps, VLOOKUP will return the corresponding value from the specified column. If it doesn’t find a match, it will return an error.

Tips for Using VLOOKUP in Excel

  • Ensure there are no duplicate values in the first column of your table array.
  • Always verify that the column index number is correct.
  • If you’re working with large data sets, consider sorting the first column to improve performance.
  • Use absolute references (with $ signs) for the table array to prevent errors if you copy the VLOOKUP formula to other cells.
  • If VLOOKUP keeps returning an error, double-check the data type of the lookup value—it should match the data type in the first column of the table array.

Frequently Asked Questions

What if VLOOKUP returns an #N/A error?

This means VLOOKUP couldn’t find the lookup value in the first column of the table array. Check for errors in your lookup value or table array.

Can VLOOKUP search for values in columns to the left?

No, VLOOKUP can only search in the first column of the table array and return values from columns to the right. Use INDEX and MATCH functions for more flexibility.

How do I make VLOOKUP case-sensitive?

VLOOKUP is not case-sensitive by default. To make it case-sensitive, you’ll need to use a combination of other functions like EXACT.

Can VLOOKUP return multiple values?

VLOOKUP will only return the first match it finds. If you need multiple values, you may need to use a different function or method.

What’s the difference between VLOOKUP and HLOOKUP?

VLOOKUP searches vertically down the first column of a table, while HLOOKUP searches horizontally across the first row of a table.


  1. Identify the lookup value.
  2. Determine the table array.
  3. Specify the column index number.
  4. Define the range lookup.


Mastering VLOOKUP in Excel can significantly speed up your data lookup tasks and make your spreadsheets much more efficient. Remember, practice makes perfect, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t get it right on the first try. Keep experimenting with different tables and datasets to see how VLOOKUP can work for you. And if you ever hit a snag, the Excel community is vast and helpful—there’s always someone out there who has faced the same challenge and is willing to share a solution. Happy VLOOKUPing!

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