Excel Tip of the Week: Tracing Precedents

Today’s topic is tracing precedents.

Sometimes spreadsheets can get really big and formulas become very complicated. In those situations it can be hard to tell exactly which cell a formula is referring to. Excel gives you a few ways to deal with this situation.

One way is to use the “trace precedents” option. If you use the trace precedents feature, Excel will insert arrows into the spreadsheet to show you which cells are being used in the function. Here is a picture of a very basic example:

To use this feature, click the “Formulas” menu on the ribbon and then from the “Formula Auditing” group click on “Trace Precedents.”(PC Keyboard shortcut: Alt → M → P)

Here is an example if some of your data is on another worksheet:


You’re able to trace as many precedents as you like and fill up your entire spreadsheet with arrows, but once you’re ready to get rid of the arrows you can use the “Remove Arrows” feature.

To do this, click the “Formulas” menu and then from the “Formula Auditing” group click on “Remove Arrows” (PC Keyboard shortcut: Alt → M → A → A).

About Doug Midkiff

I’m really good at Excel. I’m also a Texan, which seems to be a trend among OwenBloggers these days (you can’t stop us, you can only hope to contain us). After graduating from Texas, (Hook’em) I spent four years as a financial analyst before finding my way to Owen where I’m concentrating in finance with an emphasis on real estate. I love my wife, indie coffee shops, disc golf, soccer, web comics, Google maps, urbanism, sustainability, and warm weather.
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19 Responses to Excel Tip of the Week: Tracing Precedents

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