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

how to use vlookup in excel

VLOOKUP is a powerful function in Excel that helps you quickly find specific information in a large dataset. Whether you’re trying to locate a price, a name, or any other piece of data, VLOOKUP simplifies the process significantly. All you need is a unique identifier, and VLOOKUP will pull the corresponding data from a table. This article will guide you step by step on how to use VLOOKUP in Excel effectively.

Step-by-Step Tutorial on How to Use VLOOKUP in Excel

In this tutorial, you’ll learn how to use VLOOKUP to search for a specific value in one column and retrieve a corresponding value in another column. We’ll use an example of looking up a student’s grade based on their student ID.

Step 1: Prepare Your Data

Make sure your data is organized in a table with columns clearly labeled.

It’s crucial that the data you’re searching through is laid out in a simple table format. The column containing the unique identifier (like student IDs) should be the first column in the table. The column from which you want to pull data (like grades) should be to the right of this identifier column.

Step 2: Select the Cell for Your VLOOKUP Formula

Click on the cell where you want to display the result of the VLOOKUP function.

Choosing the right cell is the first step in applying your VLOOKUP function. This cell will display the data you are searching for based on the unique identifier you input.

Step 3: Enter the VLOOKUP Function

Type =VLOOKUP( into the selected cell to start your formula.

This step initiates the VLOOKUP function. After typing this, you’ll provide the necessary arguments to complete the function, including the search value, the table range, column number, and match type.

Step 4: Input the Search Key

Enter the unique identifier value or cell reference that you want to look up.

The search key is the specific value you’re using to find a match in the first column of your data table. This could be typed directly or referenced from another cell.

Step 5: Define the Table Array

Select the range of your table that includes the columns containing the identifier and the data you want to retrieve.

Highlight the entire table range starting from the first column (which has the unique identifiers) to the column with the data you need. For example, if your table is in columns A to C, you would select A:C.

Step 6: Specify the Column Index Number

Determine which column you want to pull data from and input that column number into the formula.

The column index number is the number of columns over from your identifier column where the data you need is located. If the data is in the third column, your index number is 3.

Step 7: Choose the Match Type

Type FALSE for an exact match or TRUE for an approximate match.

For an exact match, which is most common when using VLOOKUP, you’ll type FALSE. This ensures the function looks for an exact match of your search key in the first column.

Step 8: Finalize the Formula

Close the formula with a parenthesis and press Enter.

Your complete VLOOKUP formula should look something like this: =VLOOKUP(A2, A:C, 3, FALSE). Press Enter, and the result should appear in the selected cell.

After completing these steps, you’ll find that Excel has fetched the appropriate data from your table based on the unique identifier you provided.

Tips for Using VLOOKUP in Excel

  • Always use absolute references for the table array to avoid errors when copying the formula.
  • Keep your data table organized with clear labels and no empty rows.
  • Utilize the IFERROR function to handle errors gracefully.
  • Double-check your column index number to ensure accuracy.
  • Save your work frequently to avoid losing any changes.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is VLOOKUP used for?

VLOOKUP is used to search for a value in the first column of a table and return a value in the same row from a specified column.

Can VLOOKUP search for text?

Yes, VLOOKUP can search for both text and numerical values.

What does the FALSE argument do in VLOOKUP?

The FALSE argument ensures an exact match is found for the search key.

Can VLOOKUP search multiple columns?

VLOOKUP searches one column but can return data from any column to the right of it in the same table array.

What happens if VLOOKUP can’t find a match?

If VLOOKUP can’t find a match, it will return an #N/A error.


  1. Prepare Your Data
  2. Select the Cell for Your VLOOKUP Formula
  3. Enter the VLOOKUP Function
  4. Input the Search Key
  5. Define the Table Array
  6. Specify the Column Index Number
  7. Choose the Match Type
  8. Finalize the Formula


Using VLOOKUP in Excel might seem tricky at first, but with a bit of practice, it becomes second nature. This function is invaluable for anyone handling large datasets and needing quick, reliable lookups. Remember to keep your data well-organized and double-check your formula syntax to avoid common pitfalls. With these steps, tips, and FAQs, you should now be well-equipped to use VLOOKUP like a pro. Dive into your spreadsheets with confidence, and explore the power of Excel to make your data work for you.

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