Fixing Syntax Errors in Spreadsheet Formulas: Tips for Enhanced Data Analysis

Spreadsheets are powerful tools for data analysis, allowing users to perform complex calculations, organize information, and visualize data in meaningful ways. However, mastering spreadsheet formulas can be challenging, especially when dealing with syntax errors that can disrupt your workflow. In this blog post, we’ll explore practical tips for identifying and fixing syntax errors, as well as strategies for enhancing your data analysis with advanced formula techniques.


Understanding Syntax Errors In Excel

Syntax errors occur when the structure of your formula doesn’t adhere to the rules of the spreadsheet program. These errors can be frustrating, but understanding their common causes can help you avoid them.


Common Causes of Syntax Errors:


Misspelled functions: Typing `SUMM` instead of `SUM`.
Incorrect number of arguments: Providing too many or too few arguments for a function.
Mismatched parentheses: Every opening parenthesis must have a corresponding closing parenthesis.
Using the wrong type of delimiter: For example, using commas instead of semicolons in some regional settings.
Incorrect cell references: Referring to a cell that doesn’t exist or using the wrong reference type.


Examples of Syntax Errors and Fixes:

| Syntax Error Example | Error Description | How to Fix |
| `=SUM(A1:A5` | Missing closing parenthesis | Add the missing parenthesis: `=SUM(A1:A5)` |
| `=AVERAGE(2, 3, 5` | Missing closing parenthesis | Add the missing parenthesis: `=AVERAGE(2, 3, 5)` |
| `=VLOOKUP(A1, B1:D10, 2, FALSE))` | Extra closing parenthesis | Remove the extra parenthesis: `=VLOOKUP(A1, B1:D10, 2, FALSE)` |
| `=IF(A1>10, “Large”, “Small”` | Missing closing parenthesis | Add the missing parenthesis: `=IF(A1>10, “Large”, “Small”)` |
| `=CONCATENATE(A1; B1)` | Wrong delimiter used | Use the correct delimiter: `=CONCATENATE(A1, B1)` |


Enhancing Data Analysis with Formulas

Once you’ve mastered the basics of formula syntax, you can start to leverage more advanced functions to enhance your data analysis.


Advanced Functions for Data Analysis:

Logical Functions: `IF`, `AND`, `OR` to perform conditional analysis.
Lookup Functions: `VLOOKUP`, `HLOOKUP`, `INDEX`, `MATCH` to retrieve and match data.
Statistical Functions: `AVERAGE`, `MEDIAN`, `STDEV` to summarize data sets.
Text Functions: `LEFT`, `RIGHT`, `MID`, `CONCATENATE` to manipulate text data.
Date and Time Functions: `DATE`, `TIME`, `NOW`, `DATEDIF` to work with dates and times.


Tips for Using Advanced Formulas:

  1. Break Down Complex Formulas: If a formula is complex, break it down into smaller parts and test each part separately.
    2. Use Named Ranges: Instead of using cell references like `A1:B2`, give your range a name for easier understanding and maintenance.
    3. Leverage Array Formulas: Use array formulas to perform multiple calculations on one or more items in an array.
    4. Combine Functions: Combine different functions to create more powerful formulas that can perform multiple operations in one go. 

Example of an Advanced Formula:

Suppose you want to calculate the weighted average of a set of values. You can use the `SUMPRODUCT` and `SUM` functions to achieve this:

`=SUMPRODUCT(B2:B5, C2:C5) / SUM(C2:C5)`

Where `B2:B5` contains the values and `C2:C5` contains the corresponding weights.



Mastering spreadsheet formulas is essential for anyone looking to perform effective data analysis. By understanding and fixing syntax errors, you can ensure that your formulas work as intended. Additionally, by utilizing advanced functions and techniques, you can unlock the full potential of your data. Remember to practice and experiment with different functions to become more comfortable with building complex formulas. With these tips, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a spreadsheet formula master.


Live Excel Support Transcript Example:

Below is a live transcript of one of our Excel Support experts helping a customer with an Excel syntax issue:


Full Conversation:

Customer: Hello, can you hear me?
Technician: Hello. I don’t think you can hear me.
Customer: Yes, I can. I don’t have a mic on my computer.
Technician: Ah, no worries. How are you doing today?
Customer: Good. So I’ve got this spreadsheet. I can have you remote log in. It’s fairly simple. I think I just have a syntax error.
Technician: Okay. Let’s see. Okay. It looks like we have an extra comma at the end. I cannot see your screen right now. You can share your screen if you’d like.
Customer: Yeah. I’m just looking at the formula you put. But if you want to share your screen, you can hover over where you see the J-E-R-K and all that, and you’ll see a little menu pop up at the bottom. There’s going to be a green button. That’s the share screen button there.
Technician: Yeah, I got that. How do I get you onto my screen?
Customer: All right. Once you click that green button, you should be able to select either screen or window usually, and then it should highlight the bottom where it says share, and then you should be able to click share.
Technician: Let’s see. It’s an Excel spreadsheet. I’m hitting share.
Customer: Oh, I’m sorry. I mean on the Geekr tab to share the screen.
Technician: On the Geekr tab?
Customer: Yeah, where we’re logged into Geekr and we have the session open.
Technician: Got it. And how do I get this screen? Because it’s got two monitors up.
Customer: Okay. So then you’ll have to select whenever you do share screen from the Geekr tab. The Geekr tab, you should be able to select which one it’s on. So it’ll usually ask you a tab, a window, or entire screen.
Technician: I think you should see it now.
Customer: I don’t see anything. You still have to select.
Technician: There we go. All righty. The only thing I’m seeing right now is that comma at the end of the H13.
Customer: I tried that and it didn’t do a thing. You took it out and it didn’t do anything?
Technician: Okay, I’ll do it again. It comes up false.
Customer: All righty, go up. Let me see what it’s doing. Where A4 is equal to D413. So that’s equal to this. And when E4 to E13 is less than or equal to F. So this has to be less than these. I mean, I tried taking the spaces out between the commas, and that didn’t work either.
Technician: Yeah. And then what I did at the end was I put in this.
Customer: Oh, to leave it blank.
Technician: Yeah. And then it just makes it blank instead of putting the zero.
Customer: Yeah, okay. Okay, so you’re trying to pull a specific value. There might be a better way to do it. Because right now what you’re trying to do is you’re trying to push arrays into the if statement, and I think that’s what’s giving it some errors. But if all you’re trying to do is look that up, you can go ahead. Let me see. In row one, in A1 and A2, you’ve got the height and width. A4 is the drop-down box. Listing all the different types of glass sitting in D4 through D13. E4 through 13 is the cost per square foot. F4 through 13 is the maximum square feet.
Technician: Okay. And then the cost per square feet, and then obviously the price.
Customer: All righty. Let me try something on my end. You’re trying to match. Let me see. One, two, E to F. So we’re trying to see where this is true. So we’ll put some raw data here. We’ll put the three scenarios. One should be greater. One should be equal. One should be less than.
Technician: All right. Yeah. Total square feet is less than or equal to the max square feet. It should be a go.
Customer: A go. Okay. And then put the price. And obviously I’ve got another scenario on another sheet where it gives an error message. And that one’s working fine. But this one’s the only one that’s not working.
Technician: Okay. And this here is greater than or equal to this. And then I do this. How do I actually find this error? Let’s see here.
Customer: Okay. Yeah. That’s what I think it is. That’s what I want to separate these. Two pieces. Two pieces.
Technician: And here we go. I thought this was amazing stuff, but this one’s got me stumped.
Customer: Yeah, no worries. That’s because you’re trying to return some multiple values here. Let me see, because these are both blanks. I would have to do a different way if we were to do XLOOKUP.
Technician: Okay. I tried the VLOOKUP, the HLOOKUP, and I couldn’t get anything to work. I figure it’s time to stop wasting time and get some help.
Customer: Yeah, yeah, no worries. Let me see if I do Control-Shift-Enter. So the issue is not the array formula, so maybe instead we can just do filter. If I were to do equals filter, I would say this is my array, and I would tell it to include. And I want to include only where this is equal to this and where this is less than or equal to. And then we close it out. And that gives me a value error. So this is looking for F being less than or equal to. So that should be both A and B.
Technician: Okay, so E. Okay, and then E to H, so that’s the entire thing. Okay. If I were to do Enter, I get a value error. Why am I getting a value error? If I do End.
Customer: That’s what I got. Oh, you’ve also tried the filter function?
Technician: I tried it once and got an error, so I went back to the what-if statements because I’m more familiar with it.
Customer: Yeah, no worries. Yeah, that’s super strange. The only thing I could think of is maybe column F might have to be in ascending order, column B and or F. It shouldn’t matter, though.
Technician: Yeah, no, it shouldn’t. Let me try one at a time. If I were to do one parameter.
Customer: Okay, this returns C. Now if I were to do the other parameter, I need to do where this is less than or equal to this.
Technician: Okay, that gives me what I’m looking for. So now what if I set it up as multiplication instead? When I do them individually, you know, I take out the D4 colon D13, everything works. But the minute I put the colons in for the range, it stops working.
Customer: Yeah. Okay. Let me see where this is equal to one. Okay. Yeah, it’s working very strangely for me as well. Because if we separate them, it knows what we’re talking about until we put them inside the AND function. And then it just craps out and for some reason returns that value there. Why would it do that? I mean, the other way would be to do continuously long strings of the if A, then B, then C, then D, yada, yada, yada.
Technician: Yeah. A lot more than you want to go. So you’re trying to return H. So we’re trying to see. Okay, let me try to do this then. Equals X. So we’ll look at value is going to be this. We’re going to look at it through here. And then what we want to return is essentially this.
Customer: Okay, so this gives me the right answer. So now if I were to go and say I only need this when I can find it. Because we’re also doing the greater than. Because we’re looking at A4 equal to D. So it finds that. And the next parameter is just that total square feet is less than the max.
Technician: Okay. So then I would just say if this. Well, I would say this one is less than or equal to this one. And run this. Otherwise leave a link. And that looks like it worked.
Customer: Okay. Let me see. On your side. Go ahead and push enter. We’ll leave your formula there for now. But we’ll just do one underneath it. Go ahead and do equals if. And then here let’s see. You have F to G. So on your side that would be do. Click on E. Highlight your. Oh, you’re fine here. Highlight from the E column from the top five to the bottom five.
Technician: Yeah.
Customer: Is this something that you’re going to add to or there’s only these types of classes?
Technician: That’s it.
Customer: Okay. So then yeah, you should be fine. Go ahead and put. From here do the less than or equal to. And then you’ll highlight the row next to it. So same thing. The top 14 to the bottom.
Technician: Okay. And then do a comma. Then you’re going to type X look up.
Customer: Oops. Sorry. I blew it.
Technician: Sorry. No worries. Fat fingers. X look up.
Customer: Yeah. Then we’ll switch over.
Technician: Okay. And then open parenthesis. Your value is going to be an A4. Do open parenthesis and then A4. Put a comma. You’re going to click on the D column. The what column?
Customer: Yeah, D right there where it says class types. So highlight all the class types.
Technician: Oh, D, D is in David.
Customer: Yeah. And then go ahead and put a comma. And then you’re trying to bring back H, right?
Technician: Correct. So you’ll highlight H. Highlight those numbers. Okay. Then put a comma and then do the two quotes and close it out. Push enter for now. Put okay.
Customer: Okay. So it’s going to bring all of them because it’s true for all of them. But we only want one. We’ve got like five rows here.
Technician: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So we’re going to fix that. Click back into it. At the beginning after the equal sign type another if.
Customer: At the beginning after the equal sign.
Technician: Yeah. We’re going to try to get around it by just nesting it inside a different if. So do another if, open parentheses.
Customer: Open parentheses. Then you’re going to do click on A4.
Technician: A4. And do equals and then highlight the class type again.
Customer: All the way down?
Technician: All the way down. And then comma. And then you’re going to click all the way to the end of the formula.
Customer: What do you mean?
Technician: So you see how there’s a red parentheses all the way at the end?
Customer: Yeah.
Technician: Click there and you’re going to put a comma after that red parentheses.
Customer: And then you’re going to do the two quotes again. And close it out.
Technician: And this should only return one.
Customer: One value.
Technician: Okay. Now we need to select the only one that shows up. So if we were to do sort. Go ahead and try to, after the equals sign, type sort.
Customer: Yeah, right there. Before the if?
Technician: Yeah. So go ahead and do sort. Open parentheses. And then let’s see. So that’s the array. Sort index. Sort order. Go all the way to the end. Here you’re going to put a comma at the end of that. Sort index. One second. Let me see what that is. Sort. Index. I think that’s just syntax. Number indicating the row or column. We don’t need that. We just need the order.
Customer: Okay, so do a comma. Another comma?
Technician: Yeah, another comma. And then let’s do descending for now. Because I think descending should be the last number. So you can do negative one and close it out.
Customer: Comma negative one?
Technician: Yeah, right here. Put negative one and close it out. And let’s see. Put okay.
Customer: Okay. So take out the negative and then that should put it up at the top.
Technician: Oops. Oh, you’ll have to go back into JIT.
Customer: Yeah, there you go. Take out the negative and now it should be at the top.
Technician: There it goes. There it goes. All right, now let’s change this to 40. And now let’s go to 60. Now I’m exceeding the maximum square feet, so I should get. Well, on the one that you’re currently at, it’s actually not. It would have to be, because that one you have it set to 33 as the max. So try one of the first ones.
Customer: Yeah, there it goes. Now it should be.
Technician: Yeah, but false goes all the way to the bottom.
Customer: Okay, so then let me see. We need a way to take out that specific piece from the array. So here’s mine. If I want only one result.
Technician: What happened here? The whole formula moved.
Customer: Filter. There it is. Square. Not. This one has two. But that third one is fine. So if I were to do equals filter. And then here’s what I want to filter. I want only where not. Blank. I think. Should just get me. How would I do that? Because it wants to. So false shoots to the bottom. Numbers are at the top. Well, we took out the double colon. Yeah. You said the double colon where? At the end. You mean the double comma? Yeah, double comma rather. Sorry. Oh, no, that’s just so we get to the right argument. Because there’s optional arguments, but we didn’t need that second one. We were trying to jump to the third, which is essentially the way that it sorts it. We were trying to move it to the top. But what we’re seeing is that when it’s false. Oh, you know what we can do? Let me see if it’s false. Where is it false? So it’s sorting if it’s failing when it’s in here. So let’s look up. Oh, that’s weird. Let me see. The funny thing is, it’s defaulting all the way to the bottom one. It’s the top class. Yeah, it’s fine. It shouldn’t even say false. It shouldn’t say anything. Let me see. So we need to come up zero or blank or whatever. Okay. So after you see in the X. Let’s go back to the XLOOKUP. I see what’s happening. Click within it. Let me see. So we’re currently inside 1, 2, 3, 4. It’s not found. We’re leaving it blank. Okay. So scoot all the way to the end of it. So after that green parenthesis. After the green parenthesis. Got it. And then put a comma and do the two quotes again. Okay. So it’s doing that. That’s what it was. Okay. There we go. Now it should be blank. Got it. It’s a little work around there. All right. Let’s check the next one out. We can also have it say something else if you don’t want it to just be blank. You can say something like exceeding max size or something. Yeah. That’s what I was going to put. I was going to enter that in between the quotes, exceeding max size. Okay. So it would be after the second one. Right in there. Right in this one? Yeah. That one would be where it exceeds the size. Oh, you’re doing it in caps lock, I think. And then if the first one fails. I mean, the first one shouldn’t fail. So I think we can leave that one. Oh, right. Let me see. So we will do. Oh, man. Okay. It’s not going to like that. So we still need to pull out. How do we do this? Let’s say if we leave it blank, we can do exceed the max size. Okay. Let me try something on my side. Currently we’re doing this. Let’s get rid of this filter. And we’ll end up back where you are. All right. So we’re back where you’re at. Now we need to pull only one. I didn’t think it would be this complicated. Yeah. Yeah. Cool. Okay. Okay. Instead, we would do enter. Could it be because the columns aren’t sequential and I got that cost to square foot in between the max square foot and the price? No. So the workaround that we’re doing is we’re kind of using it. The way that we’re using the if statement, it’s returning an array, right? Yeah. Yeah. Ooh, actually, I think I know another workaround. Okay. So what’s happening is that we’re doing an array, so you get a spill function because it’s returning every single answer to that cell or to the formula, essentially. But what we can do is we can just create a helper column to do the calculations, and then we can just pull the result, essentially, from there. I think that might be the best workaround because we’re essentially already doing the spill. And the way that we were working around it initially was that we were sorting it, and so the numbers go first. But then what happens is that letters go last, and blanks are considered like a zero, essentially. So that’s why now when it comes to exceeding the max size, it shoots it all the way to the bottom. Do you want to drive on my screen since you’re faster at it than I am? Sure. Let me enable remote here, and then we can do so. All righty. One second. You can drive. All righty. In the chat box, I sent the join link, and that should let me jump in. It’ll ask you to download some software. It’s a very small file, and it deletes itself whenever we do complete the call. Where is it asking me to download it? So if you go over to your Geekr tab and you scroll all the way down, on the bottom left, there should be a chat box, and that’s where I sent the link. Mute, share. Can you see the screen? No, I don’t see the chat box. All the way at the bottom left, there’s no chat where it says, like, customer and technician, and then under technician, it shows chat with customer. Well, on my end, it shows chat. So let me share my screen, and that way you can see. All righty. Can you see my screen here? Yep. All righty. It’s down here.