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Using the Left Formula in Excel

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Do you happen to have well meaning people in your office who just don’t get Excel?

In their effort make life as easy for you as possible, they end up making it a lot more complicated?

Here’s an example that might seem all too familiar to you. Your boss has just finished reviewing the sales (in 2009) of each person in your sales team. Based on their experience, and his gut feel, he has assigned sales targets for everybody in 2010. These are expressed as percentages of sales achieved in 2009. This data is shown below. He wants you to get at the actual sales targets.

In order to compute the sales target, you’d ideally want to multiply the numbers in the second column with those in the third. Except that you can’t.

You can’t do this because your boss has entered each data point as a text (” 180% of Last Year”). So what you’re going to have to do is manually look up each number, and enter it as a formula in the adjoining cell.

Now, there are only nine people in this hypothetical example, but imagine a sales team that comprises of say, 200 people.

Problem? Late night at the office? Frustration all round?

Not with Excel, there isn’t!

Excel has this rather nifty formula called “left”. And left is as left does.

Left (the formula) lets you take a cell and extract a certain number of characters from the left. So, for example “=Left(A3,4)” would extract the first four characters out of whatever happens to be in cell A3.

You can see where we’re going with this, can’t you?

All you have to do is what’s shown in the picture below, and drag throughout the entire problem. Voila, problem solved!

That’s a fairly simple application of the Left formula. And yes, Excel has a “Right” version as well. Not to mention a “Mid”.

How have you gone about using these formulas? Any particularly delectable use cases? Do let us know!