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In Excel 2010: Data Validation in Depth, author Dennis Taylor shows how to use the data validation tools in Excel to control how users can input data into workbooks and ensure data is entered consistently and accurately. The course covers creating dropdown lists, preventing duplicate entries, and controlling the format of numeric data, dates and times, and text entered into worksheets. Exercise files are included with the course.
With data validation, you can control the length of entries in a range of cells. For example, in column A, if we want to put in Social Security Numbers, these are always nine characters in length, and we don't want any entries that consist of eight or 10 characters, or anything else that's not nine. Employee IDs in your organization might be always six characters in length. You want to make sure that that's true by putting in a validation rule here, too, that controls the length of the entry. Phone numbers these days are nearly always 10 characters.
You could put restrictions here, too, by way of data validation. And although this feature is called Text length, we could even use it for certain kinds of numerical information, although usually there's a better way by using other criteria, for example, to control prices. Let's focus on column A here. We want to make sure that the Social Security Number entries here are always nine characters. You should also accompany this with an Excel feature for formatting. I'm right-clicking column A here to go into Format cells. There is a Number category called Special, and one of its choices is Social Security Number.
What this does is that in the display of the values we will see the hyphens. If you don't use this feature, you won't see the hyphens, and it's not a great idea to type them anyway, so use this. This is highly recommended. Do that. Now you can do this before or after the data validation rule. Let's go to the Data tab, Data Validation. We simply want to ensure that the length of the entry here, the Text length, is not between certain number of characters, but it is exactly equal to, in this case 9.
That's the restriction. I'm just going to type in nine characters here. Not a problem. Eight characters, not good enough. Retry. I missed the one in front of it, whatever it was. Of course, I am making these up, and it is not same as yours, And sure enough, if we put in 10 characters, that's too many, and so all of these fail. As always with data validation, you might want to put in either an input message or an error alert message that explains why these entries are incorrect. But you see how easy it is to set up.
And then the first is employee ID, of course same idea. I want to complete this, but here, too, you might want to consider a Text length. And if your organization uses employee IDs that are exactly 6 characters long, then that's what you would use here as well. And for Phone Numbers, too, same idea. Here, too, as with Social Security Number, a good idea to format these and use this special built-in category for phone number, and this we will put in the parentheses and hyphens. It should work just fine. So the data validation rule here to accompany the formatting should also include the Text length entry that is equal to 10, 10 characters.
So here's a phone number. Good enough. Might need to make the column wider. There we go. And sure enough, if we type not enough characters, we get this kind of a message, as you would expect. And if we type too many, same idea. So fast, easy ways to control Text length, and I mentioned just briefly, you could use these for numbers. If all the prices for particular items in this group are three characters, sure, you could do that. But it would be probably better in a situation like this, rather than using Text length--and again, I emphasize you can use Text length for numbers--but probably it would be better here to use either whole number or decimal, and then as the case might be, put in the minimum and maximum.
That would be a better way to use this particular feature here. But there's no question that using Text length has its merits, as we've seen in the examples here.
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