Flash Fill Columns of Excel Data Automatically

by Avantix Learning Team | Updated January 29, 2016

Applies to: Microsoft® Excel® 2013 and 2016 (Windows)

Flash Fill is a tool you can use to automatically fill in values in a column based on values in an adjacent column or columns. It’s available in Microsoft Excel 2013 and later versions and is turned on by default. Flash Fill is able to extract, format and combine data from another column or columns.

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Excel looks for patterns in the source data

In order to use Flash Fill, Excel must be able to perceive a pattern so the source data should be entered in a consistent way. You can use Flash Fill in a column next to the data range containing the pattern.

If you have a blank column between the column that is being flash filled and the column with the values being referenced, Excel will display a message that it cannot find a pattern in the adjacent data.

Where you would have used functions like Left, Right and Mid to extract data in previous versions of Excel, Flash Fill can extract data without using formulas. For example, if you had a column of full names and you wanted to extract the first and last names in separate columns, you could use Flash Fill.

Flash Fill does not update

Unlike formulas, Flash Fill does not update the generated data so if the original data changes, you would need to repeat the Flash Fill process.

Using Flash Fill

To use Flash Fill by entering one value:

  1. Select the first cell immediately next to one or more columns of data you want to extract, format or string together.
  2. Enter the new value (such as first name). Flash Fill is case sensitive so enter the data in the desired case.
  3. Press Enter.
  4. In the same cell or in the cell below the first value, press Control + E or click the Data tab in the Ribbon and click the Flash Fill button in the Data Tools group. Excel should extract data values from the adjacent column(s) to fill data in the cells in the current column.

Flash Fill button on Ribbon in Microsoft Excel.

To use Flash Fill by entering two values:

  1. Select the first cell immediately next to one or more columns of data you want to extract, format or string together.
  2. Enter the new value (such as first name). Flash Fill is case sensitive so enter the data in the desired case.
  3. Press Enter.
  4. In the cell below the first value, enter a new value (such as first name). A pop-up of generated data should appear.
  5. Press Enter. Excel should extract data values from the adjacent column(s) to fill data in the cells in the current column.

If the data is not consistent, try the above method by entering three values.

Using Smart Tags

After you flash fill a column, a small icon or Smart Tag appears next to the values that were filled. Click the Smart Tag to display a drop-down menu. You can select Undo Flash Fill to undo a flash fill or Accept suggestions to accept the flash fill changes. Alternatively, choose Select blank cells or Select changed cells to select the blank cells or changed cells within the flash filled column.

Extracting first and last names using Flash Fill

If you have a column of names, you can extract first and last names in the adjacent columns as in the following example (column B and C data was generated using Flash Fill):

Using Flash Fill to extract first and last names in Microsoft Excel.

Combining last names and first names using Flash Fill

If you have columns of first names and last names, you can reorganize the data as last name, comma and then first name or generate emails for people in the same company as in the following example (column C and D data was generated using Flash Fill):

Combining first and last names using Microsoft Excel and Flash Fill.

Formatting phone numbers using Flash Fill

You can use Flash Fill to format phone numbers by adding brackets not included in the original data as in the following example (column B data was generated using Flash Fill):

Flash Fill in Excel for formatting phone numbers.

Extracting names from email addresses using Flash Fill

With Flash Fill, you can extract the text before the @ symbol from email addresses as in the following example (column B data was generated using Flash Fill)::

Flash Fill to extract names from emails.

These are just a few examples of Flash Fill to get you started. You can even use Flash Fill with date and time data so give it a try.

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