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How does the VLOOKUP function work?

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Quick Answer

In Excel, the VLOOKUP function returns a value in a range of cells based on a selected value from the first column of that range. It is primarily used in workbooks that may contain vertical lists of data greater than what can be examined at a glance.

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Full Answer

VLOOKUP refers to a vertical search, referencing data in a range comprised of at least two columns. If a worksheet contained a product inventory, for instance, it may contain three columns that represent different value types. These types, arranged in columns A, B and C, might be product, quantity and location, respectively.

If a user with access to this worksheet wanted to use it to find where a product, listed in column A, was physically located, he could use the VLOOKUP function to find its location, a value displayed in column C. The function, entered in a separate cell, can return the value in column C that corresponds with the value in column A.

The syntax of the VLOOKUP function is broken into four parts. Like any Excel function, it can be assembled by manually typing the formula or by selecting VLOOKUP in the function menu. The latter option prompts the user to enter the four parts of the function's syntax in appropriate fields, and then writes the function in the cell selected by the user. The end result is a means by which to find values that may be otherwise hard to find by simply entering a value that returns this data.

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