How to Fix Cells in Excel |  Troubleshooting Guide for Beginners

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Excel spreadsheets allow users to store and analyze data in an efficient way. However, sometimes cell values, formulas or formatting can become corrupted or display errors. Fixing cell issues in Excel ensures accurate data and a properly functioning spreadsheet. This guide covers common solutions for repairing cells in Excel.

Identify the Cell Error

Knowing the exact error message or issue occurring in the problematic Excel cell is the first step toward fixing it. Being able to properly diagnose cell errors helps narrow down the potential causes and solutions. 

Take note of any error codes, strange cell values, formatting problems, or other abnormal behaviors when inspecting corrupted cells. Trace cell relationships to find where the data flow is breaking down.

Common Excel Cell Errors

Errors like #REF!, #VALUE!, #NUM!, #DIV/0!, #NAME?, and ##### indicate formulas that reference invalid cells or perform invalid operations. Carefully inspecting the cell’s formula and checking for things like improperly typed cell references, missing parentheses, division by zero errors, or malformed functions can help identify the specific formula issues causing the errors to appear. The Formula Auditing tools in Excel can assist in catching unbalanced parentheses, debugging functions step-by-step, and revealing precedent and dependent cells.

Cells Show Incorrect Values

If cells display numbers, text, or dates that seem incorrect or inconsistent with other data in the spreadsheet, the cell value may need to be updated. First, double-check if an incorrect value was simply entered manually into the cell. 

If the cell is supposed to calculate dynamically based on a formula, check the formula for any errors. Also, inspect any precedent cells feeding data into the formula for unexpected values.

Text and Formula Cells Formatted Incorrectly

If text or formulas appear hashed out (#######) or have inconsistent formatting like font, colors, or alignment, the cell formatting itself may need adjustment. The columns may need to be widened to display long text. Font color may make cell contents invisible. Standard alignment, fonts, and styles for numbers or formulas may need to be reapplied.

Trace Cell References and Dependencies

Use Excel’s tracing tools to identify cells that supply data to or depend on the problem cell. Tracing these relationships helps track down the origins of errors.

Trace Precedents

The Trace Precedents tool maps all cells that feed data into the selected cell. Examine those providing cells backward through the chain for any cells containing errors or incorrect values passing into the problem cell.

Trace Dependents

Trace Dependents maps which other cells reference or depend upon the selected cell’s value further down the spreadsheet. Inspect if any of those dependent cells are returning errors due to issues with the problem cell’s output.

Check for Common Formula Errors

Improperly written formulas are a frequent cause of cell errors in Excel. Excel allows complex formulas with nested functions, references across sheets and workbooks, math operations, parentheses for controlling the order of operations, and more. With this complexity comes ample chances for formula defects.

Match Parentheses and Brackets

Unmatched pairs of parentheses or misplaced brackets lead to formula errors. Use Excel’s Formula Auditing tools like Show Formulas and Error Checking to visually check if parentheses and brackets are balanced properly.

Verify Cell References

Check if all cell references in the formula refer to actual cells that exist in the workbook. References to blank cells, deleted cells, or external links that are broken can cause errors. Relink broken connections to other workbooks.

Data Type and Format Consistency

Do cells referenced as inputs to a formula provide data matching the expected data type? Text versus number mismatches are common, as are cells formatted differently than what a formula function requires. Reformatting can fix it.

Attempt Manual Recalculation

For some errors, manually recalculating the formulas solves the issue by refreshing the data flows.

Use Calculate Sheet Command

The Calculate Sheet command recomputes all cells across the entire active spreadsheet, updating all formulas and cell values in one operation.

Calculate Workbook or Single Formula

Alternatively, use Calculate Workbook to recalculate all formulas in all sheets in the workbook, or Calculate Now for just one particular formula showing errors.

Restore, Delete, or Repair Corrupt Formulas

If formulas remain corrupted after attempts to recalculate, trace precedents/dependents, or resolve formatting issues, the formulas themselves may need fixing or removal entirely.

Formula Editing Mode

Edit a formula directly within the formula bar to alter the parts of the formula causing errors. Make corrections to cell references, fix function names/arguments, balance parentheses, etc.

Delete Cell Contents

Remove the contents and all formatting of a corrupted cell by using the Clear Contents command. This gives you a blank slate for rewriting a formula from scratch or re-entering a correct value.

Replace With New Formula

If simpler remedy attempts fail, delete the entire formula using the Clear Formulas command and build an entirely new one from the beginning, double-checking syntax as you build it.

Modify Cell Formatting

Sometimes cell formatting problems like text spillage or incorrectly applied number formats can manifest in odd cell errors or unexpected data shifts in Excel.

Adjust Column Width

Widening the width of columns prevents text spillage which can cause strange cell behavior. Expand columns enough to fully view cell contents.

Reset or Reapply Formatting

Use shortcut keys like Ctrl+Z to undo recent formatting changes to cells that may have corrupted them. Or reapply the correct number, date, text, or other formatting a cell needs via the Format Cells menu.

Refresh External Connections and Links

Connection issues with external workbooks or database sources lead to cell errors as those outside data sources are no longer feeding in properly.

Check for Broken Links

Open the Edit Links tool via Data > Edit Links to check for broken links to other Excel workbooks or text files that should be feeding data to the spreadsheet. Repair them.

Refresh Data Connections

If the external data connection itself is not broken but appears out of sync or outdated, use the Refresh button or Refresh All command to load the latest external data.


Properly tracing cell formulas, reversing formatting defects, recalculating formulas, repairing links, and refreshing external data can resolve even seriously corrupted Excel cells. Identify error types, utilize Excel’s Formula Auditing tools, recalculate, delete, and replace formulas if needed, and reload data connections to restore full spreadsheet functionality. With a systematic troubleshooting approach, cells in error can be recalculated accurately.

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