Retyping data that’s already in a spreadsheet can often be an exercise in frustration. Fortunately, the Flash Fill feature in Excel 2013 and later is watching as you work and, in certain cases, will offer to fill a column for you when it perceives a pattern in your data-entry work.
The feature is nuanced, so I’ll show you what to look for and how to force Excel to try to Flash Fill data on demand when it doesn’t offer to do so on its own.
As shown in Figure 1, you may have a list of names that need to be separated into two columns. Depending upon the length of the list, you may decide it won’t take long to just retype the data. If you embark on doing so in Excel 2013 and later, there’s a chance Excel will offer to complete the column for you.
To trigger an automatic Flash Fill, you must work down a single column. For instance, if you type a first name and then a last name into two separate columns, you won’t see the Flash Fill option. If you instead work down a single column, you may see a preview of the completed column when you get to the second cell. You must type slowly to do so, however, as this preview shows up fleetingly.
About David Ringstrom, CPA
David H. Ringstrom, CPA, is an author and nationally recognized instructor who teaches scores of webinars each year. His Excel courses are based on over 25 years of consulting and teaching experience. His mantra is “Either you work Excel, or it works you.” David offers spreadsheet and database consulting services nationwide.