Text To Columns In Excel – A Guide To Splitting Data Into Columns

Text to Columns is a great Excel feature to know. Essentially, it allows you to manage exactly how text is distributed in one or more columns. It may sound like a pretty simple function, but you can actually do quite a bit based on the specifications you use.

So what can the “Text to Columns” feature actually do? How can it improve your Excel spreadsheets? Most importantly, how do you use Text to Columns?

In today’s guide, we will answer all of these questions and more. You will learn all about the Text to Columns feature, including the step-by-step instructions to start using this handy feature in your own spreadsheets as soon as possible. So, let’s get started!

Why Use Text To Columns?

There are plenty of reasons to use the Text to Columns feature. One of the most common reasons is that, when you move data into an Excel spreadsheet from different file formats, the data is not always organized or formatted the way you want it. Text to Columns lets you quickly reformat the text based on specific criteria.

Here are some of the best ways to implement Text to Columns in your own work:

  • First & Last Names – If you have a list of first and last names in the same column, you may want to separate the first names into one column and the last names into another. This will make it easier to organize your cells based on either piece of data.
  • Valid & Invalid Text Formats – When you import data from an outside source, there is a chance that Excel will compile the text in ways that are not consistent across the board. For example, date formats often get imported incorrectly. With Text to Columns, you can quickly change invalid date formats into valid ones recognized by Excel.
  • Email & URL Domains – Like names, emails and URLs have different parts that you might want to organize into separate columns. With emails, you can separate the username from the domain name. Similarly, you can separate the root domains from the rest of the URLs in a given column.
  • Text Fragments – In many cases, you may not have data that can be easily organized into commonly-used categories like names or dates. For example, you may have hundreds of cells with unique sets of numbers and letters like “QR12FG499.” You can still reorganize these datasets by extracting certain fragments of the text. For instance, if you want to organize this information based on the first 4 digits of each set, you can separate the first 4 digits into one column and the remaining digits into another.
  • Trailing Minus Signs – It is very common to have negative numbers incorrectly imported into Excel. More specifically, you might get the numbers with the minus sign trailing at the end instead of appearing before the number. This is an easy fix thanks to the Text to Columns feature.
  • Date Conversions – Another great way to use the Text to Columns feature has to do with the formats of dates. For instance, if you have a column of dates written out in the traditional date format (i.e. 21 September 2022), you can use Text to Columns to convert these dates into the text format (i.e. 09/21/2022).
  • Clean Data Points – Finally, you may have multiple data points that get pushed into a column together. For example, if you import a list that does not format properly, you may get the numbers of your list in the same column as the actual content of the list. Fortunately, the Text to Columns feature allows you to separate these into distinct columns, effectively cleaning your data and making your spreadsheet easier to read.

How To Use Text To Columns In Excel

The Text to Columns feature allows you to separate values within a cell delimited by any type of value, including spaces, commas, semicolons, and tabs (just to name a few). In order to find these options and apply them in your own spreadsheet, you’ll need to follow the instructions below.

Splitting Data With A Delimiter

First, it is important to understand the different terms you’ll need to know when using the Text to Columns feature. The “Delimiter” refers to the space, character, or characters you will use to split up the text of a cell. To split data with a delimiter, follow these steps:

  1. Open your Excel worksheet
  2. Make sure you have several empty columns available (these will be filled with data once you split up the text)
  3. Select the entire column you want to split
  4. From the menu bar, go to the Data section in the upper toolbar and select “Text to Column”
  5. At this point, a text box will open that allows you to choose “Delimited”
  6. Now you will be presented with different options to split the text contained in the cells based on the delimiters you specify, like Tab, Semicolon, Comma, and Space; you can also enter your own custom delimiter by selecting Other
  7. Once you choose the delimiter you want, the window will give you a small preview of what your spreadsheet will look like with the delimiter implemented; make sure that everything looks correct before you continue
  8. Click “Next” to see the Final Data Preview
  9. If you’re satisfied with the changes, click “Finish”

Splitting Data That Has A Fixed Width

The Fixed Width option allows you to align fields in columns with spaces between each field. In other words, you can ensure that each column is the same width, splitting up the data based on your space requirements. To split data that has a fixed width, follow these steps:

  1. Open your Excel worksheet
  2. Make sure you have several empty columns available (these will be filled with data once you split up the text)
  3. Select the entire column you want to split
  4. From the menu bar, go to the Data section in the upper toolbar and select “Text to Column”
  5. At this point, a text box will open that allows you to choose “Fixed Width”
  6. After you click “Next,” you can select the width of data by setting the field widths using column breaks; you can create a column break by clicking on the data preview
  7. Once you have configured the width to your liking, click on “Next”
  8. Choose the column data format you want (general, text, date, etc.)
  9. Review the data preview to see how the data will look once it has been split
  10. Click “Finish” to finalize your changes

Alternatives To Text To Columns

Text to Columns is definitely the easiest way to split up text within the cells of a single column. While there are different methods of achieving the same outcome, they are generally not as straightforward. For example, you can use the LEFT, RIGHT, FIND, and LEN functions to split up text based on different criteria. All of these options will require you to input specific functions into Excel based on the column and cell numbers. The process only becomes more complex if you want to use functions like FILTERXML or Flash Fill to split up your text. Consequently, you should only resort to these methods if the built-in functionality of Text to Columns won’t work for your specific project.

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