18 Google Sheets Formula Tips & Techniques You Should Know

How many of these Google Sheets Formula Tips & Techniques do you know?

Contents

  1. F4 Key
  2. F2 To Edit Cell
  3. Shift + Enter To Edit Cell
  4. Escape To Exit A Formula
  5. Move To The Front Or End Of Your Formula
  6. Function Helper Pane
  7. Colored Ranges
  8. F2 To Highlight Specific Ranges
  9. Function Name Drop-Down
  10. Tab To Auto-Complete
  11. Adjust The Formula Bar Width
  12. Quick Aggregation Toolbar
  13. Quick Fill Down
  14. Know How To Create An ArrayFormula
  15. Create Arrays With Curly Brackets
  16. Multi-line Formulas
  17. Comments In Formulas
  18. Use The Onion Approach

1. F4 Key

Undoubtedly one of the most useful Google Sheets formula shortcuts to learn.

Press the F4 key to toggle between relative and absolute references in ranges in your Google Sheets formulas.

F4 to switch between relative and absolute referencing

It’s WAY quicker than clicking and typing in the dollar ($) signs to change a reference into an absolute reference.

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2. F2 To Edit Cell

Have you ever found yourself needing to copy part of a Google Sheets formula to use elsewhere? This is a shortcut to bring up the formula in a cell.

Start by selecting a cell containing a formula.

Press the F2 key to enter into the formula:

F2 shortcut key to enter Google Sheets Formula

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3. Shift + Enter To Edit Cell

Shift + Enter is another shortcut to enter into the Google Sheets formula edit view.

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4. Escape To Exit A Formula

Have you ever found yourself trying to click out of your formula, but Sheets thinks you want to highlight a new cell and it messes up your formula?

Press the Escape key to exit the formula view and return to the result view.

Any changes are discarded when you press the Escape key (to save changes you just hit the usual Return key).

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5. Move To The Front Or End Of Your Google Sheets Formula

Here’s another quick trick that’s helpful for longer Google Sheets formulas:

When you’re inside the formula view, press the Up arrow to go to the front of your formula (in front of the equals sign).

Similarly, pressing the Down arrow takes you to the last character in your formula.

Up Down Arrow Keys in Google Sheets Formula

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6. Function Helper Pane

Learn to read the function helper pane!

Google Sheets Formula Helper Pane

You can press the “X” to remove the whole pane if it’s getting it the way. Or you can minimize/maximize with the arrow in the top right corner.

The best feature of the formula pane is the yellow highlighting it adds to show you which section of your function you are in. E.g. in the image above I’m looking at the “[headers]” argument.

There is information about what data the function is expecting and even a link to the full Google documentation for that function.

If you’ve hidden the function pane, or you can’t see it, look for the blue question mark next to the equals sign of your formula. Click that and it will restore the function helper pane.

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7. Colored Ranges

Helpfully Google Sheets highlights ranges in your formulas and in your actual Sheet with matching colors. It applies different colors to each unique range in your formula.

Google Sheets Function highlighting

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8. F2 To Highlight Specific Ranges

As mentioned in Step 2, you press the F2 key to enter the formula view of a cell with a formula in.

However, it has another useful property. If you position your cursor over a range of data in your formula and then press the F2 key, it will

F2 to highlight range in Google Sheets formula

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9. Function Name Drop-Down

A great way to discover new functions is to simply type a single letter after an equals sign, and then browse what comes up:

Google Sheets Function Drop-Down List

Scroll up and down the list with the Up and Down arrows, and then click on the function you want.

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10. Tab To Auto-Complete Function Name

When you’re using the function drop-down list in the tip above, press the tab key to auto-complete the function name (based on whatever function is highlighted).

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11. Adjust The Formula Bar Width

Google Sheets Formula Bar Width

An easy one this! Grab the base of the formula bar until you see the cursor change into a little double-ended arrow. Then click and drag down to make the formula bar as wide as you want.

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12. Quick Aggregation Toolbar

Highlight a range of data in your Sheet and check out the quick aggregation tool in the bottom toolbar of your Sheet (bottom right corner).

Quick Aggregation Toolbar

Quickly find out the aggregate measures COUNT, COUNT NUMBERS, SUM, AVERAGE, MIN and MAX, without needing to create functions.

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13. Quick Fill Down

Double click to copy formula

To copy the formula quickly down the column, double-click the blue mark in the corner of the highlighted cell, shown by the red arrow. This will copy the cell contents and format down as far as the contiguous range in preceding column (column A in this case).

An alternative way to quickly fill in a column is to highlight the range you want to fill, e.g.:

Quickly enter data in Google Sheets

Then press Ctrl + D (PC and Chromebook) or Cmd + D (Mac) to copy the contents and format down the whole range, like so:

Quickly enter data in Google Sheets

You can also do this with Ctrl + Enter (PC and Chromebook) or Cmd + Enter (Mac), which will fill down the column.

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14. Know How To Create An ArrayFormula

Array Formulas are powerful extensions to regular formulas, allowing you to work with ranges of data rather than individual pieces of data.

Per the official definition, array formulas enable the display of values returned into multiple rows and/or columns and the use of non-array functions with arrays.

In a nutshell: whereas a normal formula outputs a single value, array formulas output a range of cells!

We need to tell Google Sheets we want a formula to be an Array Formula. We do this in two ways:

  1. Hit Ctrl + Shift + Enter (PC/Chromebook) or Cmd + Shift + Enter (on a Mac) and Google Sheets will add the ArrayFormula wrapper
  2. Alternatively, type in the word ArrayFormula and add brackets to wrap your formula/li>

Find out how array formulas work in Google Sheets.

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15. Create Arrays With Curly Brackets

Have you ever used the curly brackets, or ARRAY LITERALS to use the correct nomenclature, in your formulas?

An array is a table of data. They can be used in the same way that a range of rows and columns can be used in your formulas. You construct them with curly brackets: { }

Commas separate the data into columns on the same row.

Semi-colons creates a new row in your array.

(Please note, if you’re based in Europe, the syntax is a little different. Find out more here.)

This formula, entered into cell A1, will create a 2 by 2 array that puts data in the range A1 to B2:

= { 1 , 2 ; 3 , 4 }

The array component (in this example { 1 , 2 ; 3 , 4 } ) can be used as an input to other formulas.

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16. Multi-line Formulas

Press Ctrl + Enter inside the formula editor bar to add new lines to your formulas, to make them more readable. Note, you’ll probably want to widen the formula bar first, per tip 11.

Multi-line formula in Google Sheets

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17. Comments In Formulas

Add comments to your formulas, using the N function.

N returns the argument provided as a number. If the argument is text, inside quotation marks, the N function returns 0.

So we can use it to add a comment like this:

=SUM(A1:A100) + N("Sums the first 100 rows of column A")

which is effectively the same as:

=SUM(A1:A100) + 0

which is just:

=SUM(A1:A100)

This tip is pretty esoteric, but it’s helpful for any really long formulas!

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18. Use The Onion Approach For Complex Formulas

Complex formulas are like onions on two counts: i) they have layers that you can peel back, and ii) they often make you cry ðŸĪĢ

Use The Onion Method To Approach Complex Formulas

If you’re building complex formulas, then I advocate a one-action-per-step approach. What I mean by this is build your formula in a series of steps, and only make one change with each step. So if you start with function A(range) in a cell, then copy it to a new cell before you nest it with B(A(range)), etc.

This lets you progress in a step-by-step manner and see exactly where your formula breaks down.

Similarly, if you’re trying to understand complex formulas, peel the layers back until you reach the core (which is hopefully a position you understand). Then, build it back up in steps to get back to the full formula.

For more detail about this approach, including examples and worksheets for each case, have a read of this post:

Use The Onion Method To Approach Complex Formulas

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14 thoughts on “18 Google Sheets Formula Tips & Techniques You Should Know”

  1. I’ve been using sheets for years and just learned a number of new shortcuts and answered a couple of questions ive had over time. What a great resource, thank you!

  2. Hello Ben,
    I am Google Sheets Trainer, and I’ve found the tip about how to instantly locate the range within the spreadsheet with F2 so useful!

    So useful to edit complex formula in big dashboards!
    Thank you for sharing your skills!

    PS: by the way, I’ve subscribed to your newsletter, and there was a formula challenge on Feb, the 25th (but I have not received the solution if I’m not mistaken). It was:
    ** FORMULA CHALLENGE – NEW!! **
    Start with a straightforward IMAGE function in cell A1
    Your Challenge:
    Modify the formula in cell A1 only to repeat the image across multiple columns (say 5 as in this example).
    Rules: You’re only allowed to use a single formula in cell A1. ðŸĪŠ
    If you find your own solution, feel free to share! I’d love to see them.
    I’ll share the solution I found in next week’s email. It uses an interesting array construction…
    **
    Was it supposed to be done with the curly brackets?
    Looking forward to reading you soon.

  3. Thank you
    You save me so much time.

    How can make default value for drop down list?
    for example return 0 if it is empty.

  4. Ben ,
    Trying to align my formulas in a list or a new line for each query, each time i do this using alt and enter it drops a line. This is what I want but when i click off the formula bar onto a cell it goes back. How do you stop this from happening?

    1. I think the only reliable way to do this is to copy your formula into a text editor, add the spacing you want to have, and then copy it back into your formula bar.

      Hope this helps!

  5. Great article. Anyone know if its possible to stop google sheets auto-correcting a formula. If I miss a bracket or a comma, I want to make the correction myself to make sure it’s right, but google sheets often just adds a bracket at the end, or takes its guess. Can I toggle that behaviour off?
    Also, I want to record some macros to be able to make customised shortcuts that work on all my google sheets. Is that possible, or are macros always just applied to one spreadsheet?
    Thanks!

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