4 Ways to Use Flash Fill in Excel to Extract, Combine, Clean or Format Data

by Avantix Learning Team | Updated Sepptember 7, 2021

Applies to: Microsoft® Excel® 2013, 2016, 2019 or 365 (Windows)

You can use Flash Fill in Excel to extract, combine, clean or format data quickly without using formulas. In order to use Flash Fill, Excel must be able to understand a pattern in a column to the left of the column where you want to fill the data so the source data should be entered in a consistent way. You can use Flash Fill by clicking a button, using shortcuts or by using the Fill handle.

You can automatically fill in values using Flash Fill if you have Microsoft Excel 2013 or a later version. Flash Fill can be used to extract names, phone numbers, emails and even to format data.

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.

Although you may 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 have a column of full names and you wanted to extract the first and last names in separate columns, you could use Flash Fill.

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.

Recommended article: No Mouse? Using Keyboard Only Navigation in Microsoft Office (Part 1: The Ribbon)

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1. Using Flash Fill with a keyboard shortcut

To use Flash Fill with a keyboard shortcut:

  1. Select the first cell immediately to the right of one or more columns of data you want to extract, combine, clean or format.
  2. Enter the value you want to extract, combine, clean or format (such as the first name from a cell in the same row in a column to the left). Flash Fill is case sensitive so enter the data in the desired case.
  3. Press Enter.
  4. In the cell below the first value, press Ctrl + E. Excel should generate data values from the adjacent column(s) to fill data in the cells in the current column.

2. Using Flash Fill in the Ribbon

To use Flash Fill using Flash Fill in the Ribbon:

  1. Select the first cell immediately to the right of one or more columns of data you want to extract, combine, clean or format.
  2. Enter the value you want to extract, combine, clean or format (such as the first name from a cell in the same row in a column to the left). Flash Fill is case sensitive so enter the data in the desired case.
  3. Press Enter.
  4. With the cell below the first value selected, click the Data tab in the Ribbon and click Flash Fill in the Data Tools group. Excel should generate data values from the adjacent column(s) to fill data in the cells in the current column.

Below is the Flash Fill command in the Ribbon:

Flash Fill button in Ribbon in Microsoft Excel.

3. Using Flash Fill with a context menu

To use Flash Fill with a context menu:

  1. Select the first cell immediately to the right of one or more columns of data you want to extract, combine, clean or format.
  2. Enter the value you want to extract, combine, clean or format (such as the first name from a cell in the same row in a column to the left). 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 the first name from a cell in the same row in a column to the left). A pop-up of generated data should appear if Excel understands the pattern.
  5. Press Enter. Excel should generate 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.

4. Using Flash Fill with a Smart Tag

To use Flash Fill with a Smart Tag:

  1. Select the first cell immediately to the right of one or more columns of data you want to extract, combine, clean or format.
  2. Enter the value you want to extract, combine, clean or format (such as the first name from a cell in the same row in a column to the left). Flash Fill is case sensitive so enter the data in the desired case.
  3. Press Enter.
  4. Click the cell in which you entered the first value and drag the bottom right corner handle (Fill handle) down to the last cell you want to fill. A Smart Tag should appear.
  5. Click the Smart Tag and select Flash Fill.

Example 1 – 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.

Example 2 – 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.

Example 3 – 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.

Example 4 – 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):

Excel 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.

This article was originally published on January 31, 2016 and has been updated for clarity and content.

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How to Use Flash Fill in Excel (4 Ways with Shortcuts)
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How to Use Flash Fill in Excel (4 Ways with Shortcuts)
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You can use Flash Fill in Excel to extract, combine, clean or format data quickly without using formulas. In order to use Flash Fill, Excel must be able to understand a pattern in a column to the left of the column where you want to fill the data so the source data should be entered in a consistent way. You can use Flash Fill by clicking a button, using shortcuts or by using the Fill handle.
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