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Now Where Did That Zero Go?

Now Where Did That Zero Go?

Here’s a good tip sent in by a reader regarding numbers with leading zeros.

If you’ve ever entered a number with a zero in the first place(s) you probably became very frustrated when you realized that Excel takes those zeros off the number.

For example, if you type in 01234 then, left to its own devices, Excel will put 1234 into the cell.

That’s ok if you’re dealing with the value of 1,234 but what if that number was a zip code? The zero is essential.

So, how do we overcome Excel’s natural tendency to “help” us out in these situations?

Well, I can think of two ways.

The first involves actually changing the formatting of the cell—basically we can have Excel treat the data like it’s text.

To do this you’ll need to highlight the range of cells involved then go to the Format menu, Cells choice. (Alt, then O then E will work and so will Ctrl + 1.)

Any way you choose to get there—once you’re in the “Format Cells” window you need the Number tab.

On the Number tab select Text from the Category list.


Now click OK.

That takes care of the problem and it’s efficient when you have a lot of cells affected by the problem.

What if you only have a couple of cells to deal with?

All that formatting stuff can be a bit of a pain—so maybe you’d like a fast fix for a cell here or there?

Yeah, I thought you might agree. This could be a handy piece of knowledge somewhere down the road.

So here’s the quick fix for one cell at a time.

Instead of entering 01234 in the cell, try entering an before the 01234.

Yes—you read that right. A simple little apostrophe takes care of the entire thing.

Excel stops trying to reformat the data in that cell and you have all the numbers you need.

Now that you know where the zeros went, it’s time to take control and get them back.

~ April

(PS – Thanks Dan for the tip idea!)