Find first non-blank item in a list with formulas
Blank cells are an invisible pain in the analysis. Dealing with them is frustrating, time-consuming and often very complex. At chandoo.org, we are not big fans of blank cells. That is why we wrote:
- How to delete blank cells & rows?
- Dealing with blanks – case study
- Quickly filling blank cells in a table
- Extracting non-blank data from a list
Today, lets talk about one more scenario. Lets say you want to find out the first non-blank item in a list. How would you do it?
Finding first non-blank item in a list
Lets say our list is in the range B3:B100.
Without using formulas
If you just want to get the first non-blank item in a list and do not want to use formulas, then you can remove all the blank items from the list. To do this:
- Select entire list
- Press F5, click on special
- Choose blanks, click ok.
- Press CTRL –
- Remove rows (or shift cells up as needed).
Now that the blank cells are gone, just refer to B3 to get the first non-blank item in the list.
Although the non-formula approach works, it is manual. That means every time your data changes, you must repeat the steps. Not very cool, especially if you call yourself awesome. So, lets use a powerful formula to get that first non blank item in our list.
First see the formula:
=VLOOKUP("*", B3:B100, 1,FALSE)
How it works?
We want to lookup for first cell that contains something. It does not matter what that value is.
That is what * does. * is a wild card in Excel. When you ask VLOOKUP to find *, it finds the first cell that contains anything.
NOTE: This approach finds first cell that contains any TEXT. So if the first non-blank cell is a number (or date, % or Boolean value), the formula shows next cell that contains text.
How to find first non-blank value (text or number)?
If you want to find first non-blank value, whether it is text or number, then you can use below array formula.
=INDEX(B3:B100, MATCH(FALSE, ISBLANK(B3:B100), 0))
Make sure you press CTRL+Shift+Enter after typing this formula.
How this formula works?
ISBLANK(B3:B100) portion: This gives us list of TRUE / FALSE values depending on the 98 cells in B3:B100 are blank or not. It looks like this:
MATCH(FALSE, ISBLANK(…), 0) portion: Once we have the TRUE / FALSE values, we just need to find the first FALSE value (ie, first non-blank cell). That is what this MATCH function does. It finds an exact match of FALSE value in the list. (Related: Using MATCH Formula)
INDEX(B3:B100, MATCH(…)) portion: Once we know which cell is the first non-blank cell, we need its value. That is what INDEX does. (Related: Introduction to INDEX formula)
Home work for you
If you like this formula and want some challenge, read on.
For these home work problems, use the range B3:B100 or named range list in your formulas.
- Can you think of some other formulas to find first non-blank cell?
- What formula gives 2nd non-blank cell value?
- What formula gives last non-blank cell value?
Go ahead and post your answers using comments.
Drawing a blank when working on lookups?
If you are giving blank stares whenever your boss asks for lookup related stuff, then you are going to love this. My latest publication, The VLOOKUP Bookis a comprehensive guide to VLOOKUP, INDEX, MATCH, LOOKUP and other techniques to lookup any data and answer questions with confidence.
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