Mastering VLOOKUP in Excel A Comprehensive Guide

How to do vlookup in excel


Microsoft Excel is a powerful tool widely used for data analysis and management. Among its numerous functions, VLOOKUP stands out as a fundamental and versatile formula for retrieving data from different parts of a worksheet. Whether you’re a seasoned Excel user or just starting your journey with spreadsheets, mastering VLOOKUP can significantly enhance your efficiency and data manipulation capabilities. In this article, we will provide a comprehensive guide on how to use VLOOKUP effectively to streamline your data analysis.

Understanding VLOOKUP

VLOOKUP, short for Vertical Lookup, is an Excel function that allows you to search for a value in the leftmost column of a table and retrieve a corresponding value from the same row in a specified column. Its basic syntax is as follows


=VLOOKUP(lookup_value, table_array, col_index_num, [range_lookup])


  • lookup_value The value you want to find in the first column of the table.
  • table_array The range of cells that contains the data you want to search in. This range must include the column where you expect to find the lookup_value.
  • col_index_num The column number in the table_array from which you want to retrieve the result. The first column in the table_array is 1, the second column is 2, and so on.
  • range_lookup (optional) This parameter can be either TRUE or FALSE. TRUE (or omitted) will result in an approximate match, and FALSE will give you an exact match.

Step-by-Step Guide to Using VLOOKUP

  • Preparing Your Data

Before using VLOOKUP, ensure that your data is well-organized. The lookup_value must be present in the leftmost column of the table_array. Also, sort the data in ascending order based on the values in the first column for the best results when using approximate matches.

  • Applying VLOOKUP

Begin by selecting the cell where you want the VLOOKUP result to appear. Then, type the formula using the syntax mentioned earlier. For instance, to find the price of a product based on its product code, the formula would be:


=VLOOKUP(A2, B2:D20, 3, FALSE)


In this example

  • A2 is the cell with the lookup_value (product code).
  • B2:D20 is the table_array, with product codes in the first column, product names in the second column, and prices in the third column.
  • 3 is the col_index_num, indicating that we want to retrieve the price from the third column.
  • FALSE ensures that we get an exact match.

Handling Errors

If the lookup_value is not found in the first column, VLOOKUP returns the #N/A error. To handle this gracefully, you can use the IFERROR function


=IFERROR(VLOOKUP(A2, B2:D20, 3, FALSE), “Not found”)


Now, if the lookup_value is not found, the cell will display “Not found” instead of an error message.

Using Approximate Matches

When using VLOOKUP with approximate matches (range_lookup = TRUE or omitted), the first column of the table_array must be sorted in ascending order. This feature is handy for finding approximate values, such as looking up a commission rate based on a sales target. However, be cautious as it can lead to unexpected results if the data is not sorted correctly.


Sometimes, you may encounter situations where a single VLOOKUP is not sufficient to retrieve the data you need. In such cases, you can use nested VLOOKUPs or the INDEX-MATCH combination.

  • Nested VLOOKUP

You can use the result of one VLOOKUP as the lookup_value in another, allowing you to search for data in a multi-column table. For example:




In this example, the formula looks for the product name (using the first VLOOKUP) and then finds the corresponding price from a different table (E2:G20) using the second VLOOKUP.


The INDEX-MATCH combination is a powerful alternative to nested VLOOKUPs. Instead of specifying col_index_num, the MATCH function is used to find the position of the lookup_value within the table_array, and the INDEX function retrieves the desired value.


=INDEX(E2:E20, MATCH(A2, B2:B20, 0))


Here, the formula looks up the product code (A2) in the first column (B2:B20) and returns the corresponding price from the second column (E2:E20).

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the common VLOOKUP formula?

Lookup_value (required) – is the value to search for. This can be a value (number, date or text), cell reference (reference to a cell containing a lookup value), or the value returned by some other function. Unlike numbers and cell references, text values should always be enclosed in “double quotes”.

What is faster than VLOOKUP in Excel?

One of the popular improvements to the VLOOKUP limitations is to combine 2 Excel functions, INDEX and MATCH. Also, the INDEX/MATCH combination runs faster than VLOOKUP, which can make a difference on large sets of data. However the Excel INDEX MATCH formula is not perfect.


VLOOKUP is an indispensable tool for data analysis and manipulation in Excel. By mastering this function, you can efficiently retrieve information from large datasets, saving time and effort. Remember to organize your data correctly, handle errors gracefully, and, when necessary, explore nested VLOOKUPs or the INDEX-MATCH combination for more complex data retrieval tasks. With practice, you’ll become proficient in utilizing VLOOKUP to its full potential, significantly enhancing your spreadsheet skills and productivity.

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