Excel’s General problem that messes up what you type

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Why does Excel change what people type or import, sometimes in ways they don’t want?  It’s the General cell format that messes with what you type or import.

It’s the default cell format ‘General’. It’s top of the Formats list and most of us haven’t given it a second thought.

Excel’s General problem that messes up what you type - Excel’s General problem that messes up what you type

Microsoft short explanation is ‘No specific format’ but that’s not really true.  General is the ‘catch all’ cell type which will change to another cell format depending on what you type.   Type $123 and the cell becomes Currency.   Type 45% and it’ll be Percentage type.

That’s great mostly, but there are too many cases where General converts wrongly.

It doesn’t just happen with data import, typing data has the same problem.  Trying typing ‘MARCH1’ into a cell, Excel will change it into a date. The ‘quick & dirty’ fix is to prefix the text with an apostrophe – typing ‘MARCH1  will force Excel to treat it as text.

You might think that Undo (Ctrl + Z) would fix a conversion from General but, for reasons unknown, the cell type conversions are not added to the Excel Undo stack.  If they aren’t in the stack, they can’t be undone … Grrrrr.

Excel’s General problem that messes up what you type 1 - Excel’s General problem that messes up what you type

All these cells are converted to another format with no option to Undo.

Text format as you type

Force text typed for a single cell by starting with an apostrophe  ‘  .  However that doesn’t change the cell format to Text. It’s text but with General cell formatting.

Amazingly, there is no shortcut to quickly apply Text cell formatting.  There are shortcuts for Currency, Date, Time etc but not Text.  The ribbon shortcut Alt, H, N, TE works but it’s clumsy.

The ‘General’ fix for wrong conversions

If you’re typing into Excel, the fix is to change the cell (most likely a whole column) to the format you want before typing.

Changing a column from General to Text format first will stop Excel from trying any conversion shenanigans as you type.

Great text importing tricks for Excel

Import PDF’s into Excel and refresh later

Excel’s much better data import features

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