Close this search box.

Rescue oddly shaped data – Battle between Formulas, VBA and Power Query



This is inspired from a forum question by Chanthan about messy data.

Let’s say you have data like this in a spreadsheet. Don’t roll your eyes, I am 102% sure, right at this moment, someone is (ab)using Excel to create similar messy data.

How do you reshape it to one column?

You could use formulas, VBA or Power Query. Let’s examine all these methods to see what is best. All these methods assume your data is in a range aptly named myrange.

Oddly shaped data vs. Formulas

ln response to Chantan’s question, Narayan, our forum ninja posted this beautiful, complex and almost cryptic formula.

=IFERROR(INDIRECT("R" & SUBSTITUTE(TEXT(SMALL(IF(myrange <> "", ROW(myrange) + COLUMN(myrange)*0.00001), 
             ROWS(A$1:A1)), "00000.00000"), ".", "C"), FALSE), "")

It is a bit too much to explain. But I will give it a go:

  • We want to find out the address of the cells that have some value in them.
  • Start by finding the row & column numbers of cells that are not empty – myrange<>””
  • Add these two to generate a decimal number in the format row.column*0.00001
  • Reformat this in 00000.00000 format using TEXT
  • Replace decimal point with C and prefix R, so you get R00000C00000, a la R1C1 notation
  • Use INDIRECT to get the corresponding cell value.
  • boom.

My verdict: Works beautifully, but you need serious Excel skills to either write it or change it. Also, volatile as it uses INDIRECT.

Oddly shaped data vs. VBA Macros

VBA is so easy for things like this. You can just iterate thru myrange and copy non-blank values. Here is a simple VBA macro to do that. It will paste output from a cell named paste.here.

Sub extract()
    Dim cell As Range, i As Long
    For Each cell In Range("myrange").SpecialCells(xlCellTypeConstants)
        Range("paste.here").Offset(i).Value = cell.Value
        i = i + 1
    Next cell
End Sub

My verdict: Works like a charm. You just need entry level VBA skills to understand and use this. But requires re-running when data changes and permissions.

Oddly shaped data vs. Power Query

Power Query is designed to mitigate pains like this. You just have to load the data to PQ and give it a good scrubbing to get shiny extract in a single row.

  1. Load myrange to Power Query (use Data > From Table or Power Query > From Range)
  2. Select all columns, right click and choose Merge Columns with separator as comma (or any other symbol not present in your data)
  3. Right click on the newly created column and split it by comma  in to rows.
  4. Filter away null values
  5. Close and load the data.

My verdict: If you have Power Query (or Excel 2016) and not using it to slap some sense in to shapeless data, then you are punishing yourself. Power Query is for things like this people. So use it with abandon.

Download oddly shaped data – done three ways

Click here to download the oddly shaped data workbook. Play with the formulas, VBA and PQ to learn each better.

Improve your career odds – learn Excel

If you had enough of being the odd person out due to your pear shaped Excel skills, then its time you got in shape. Start with these free resources.

What is your verdict?

What do you think about these three techniques? Which one is better according to you? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.


Share this tip with your colleagues

Excel and Power BI tips - Chandoo.org Newsletter

Get FREE Excel + Power BI Tips

Simple, fun and useful emails, once per week.

Learn & be awesome.

Welcome to Chandoo.org

Thank you so much for visiting. My aim is to make you awesome in Excel & Power BI. I do this by sharing videos, tips, examples and downloads on this website. There are more than 1,000 pages with all things Excel, Power BI, Dashboards & VBA here. Go ahead and spend few minutes to be AWESOME.

Read my storyFREE Excel tips book

Excel School made me great at work.

– Brenda

Excel formula list - 100+ examples and howto guide for you

From simple to complex, there is a formula for every occasion. Check out the list now.

Calendars, invoices, trackers and much more. All free, fun and fantastic.

Advanced Pivot Table tricks

Power Query, Data model, DAX, Filters, Slicers, Conditional formats and beautiful charts. It's all here.

Still on fence about Power BI? In this getting started guide, learn what is Power BI, how to get it and how to create your first report from scratch.

29 Responses to “Rescue oddly shaped data – Battle between Formulas, VBA and Power Query”

  1. MF says:

    Nice use of Power Query! Power Query is simply awesome! But somehow a lot of people are punishing themselves by not using it (not learning it).

    An imperfect 4th approach for consideration... no codes at all...
    Select myrange.
    Go to Special --> Blank
    Delete Cell --> Shift cell left
    90% done... now we just need to move the data of 2nd column to the bottom of 1st column
    Of course... Power Query is the best.

  2. There is another way but it involves multiple steps:
    Copy the values in column E, move the cursor to F5, Paste Special with Skip Blanks, OK
    Copy the values in column D, move the cursor to F8, Paste Special with Skip Blanks, OK
    And so on.
    This works perfectly, albeit a little clumsily apart from the values in B17 and C16, which can be moved with simple copy and paste

  3. Robson says:

    Power Query Forever! I do not know how I survived for so long without knowing and using this tool, I can not recommend it to my colleagues, but by the way they prefer to suffer to learn.

    My congratulations here from Brazil.

  4. Haz says:

    I rolled my eyes when I saw that data

    Using decimal places is a nice trick to order data, thanks for that

    And tweaking the first formula a bit, you can use OFFSET instead of INDIRECT

    =OFFSET($A$1, MIN(IF(myrange, ROW(myrange)), ROWS(A$1:A1))-1, RIGHT(TEXT(MIN(IF(myrange, ROW(myrange) + COLUMN(myrange)*0.00001), ROWS(A$1:A1)), ".00000"), 5)-1)

    • Michael Connor says:

      Tried the above formula with the downloaded oddly shaped data file and I could not get it to work. I get #value without ctrl+shift+enter, and #ref with ctrl+shift+enter.

      • Haz says:

        Sorry, it was SMALL, not MIN.
        Add with CTRL+SHIFT+ENTER.

        • Michael Connor says:

          Thank you for your formula. Like the indirect formula I tested this one in older versions of EXCEL and it worked without ALTERATION in EXCEL 95. Very impressive.

  5. Bertie Hechter says:

    Too complicated

    Use =Sum to summarize all the sells to the left and Bobs Your Uncle

  6. Michael Connor says:

    I tested this formula in versions of Excel all the way back to Excel 95


    So there are multiple ways of cleaning up messy data by formulas.

    • Chandoo says:

      Wow.. Excel 95. Who knew people still use that. But as you have shown, Excel has all these beautiful and powerful functions for 23 years. It has data sciency stuff before DS was even a thing.

      • Michael Connor says:

        I had a problem with pasting the formula in the original post.
        Formula should be: =IF(ISERROR(INDIRECT("R"&SUBSTITUTE(TEXT(SMALL(IF(myrange"",ROW(myrange)+COLUMN(myrange)*0.00001),ROWS(A$1:A1)),"00000.00000"),".","C"),FALSE)),"",(INDIRECT("R"&SUBSTITUTE(TEXT(SMALL(IF(myrange"",ROW(myrange)+COLUMN(myrange)*0.00001),ROWS(A$1:A1)),"00000.00000"),".","C"),FALSE)))

        EXCEL even in a 16 bit version, is a very robust and capable program.

  7. Michael Connor says:

    I don't like the VBA code. If you have a blank row in MyRange, the last entry in the range is doubled up in the paste.here range.

    • Chandoo says:

      Not really. The macro is writing one cell at a time from paste.here. You have to clean the range before, which I was too lazy to write. But a line like Range(range("paste.here"), range("paste.here").end(xldown)).clearcontents should do the trick.

      • Michael Connor says:

        Adding Range(range("paste.here"), range("paste.here").end(xldown)).clearcontents fixed the problem.

  8. A Rakesh Patro says:

    for step split column by delimiter i am not getting option of split into rows or columns. Can you help me in this

  9. Marc says:

    Thanks Chandoo for promoting Power Query.

    To simplify further, you can "Unpivot Columns" instead of right click on the newly created column and split it by comma in to rows in step 3 of Power Query.

  10. johan says:

    i used


    and got the answers. I just plagiarized this formula somewhere and use it, maybe you can explain why it works.

    • Chandoo says:

      @Johan... I am not sure if the formula works correctly. When I tested it with the sample data in this post, it showed #N/As in two cells. Essentially, it will only give first value in each row. So if a row has multiple values, then subsequent values are missed. LOOKUP() function goes thru a list and finds the first value that is less than or equal to the input - in this case 10000 in B5:F5.

  11. Ben says:

    I have the need to convert pdf's to excel on occasion and they often come out a mess like this. I have used:

    Cell G2 =COUNT(myrange)
    Cell G3 =IFERROR(IF(G2-1<1,"",G2-1),"") copied down to G100
    Cell H2 =IFERROR(LARGE(myrange,G2),"") copied down to H100

  12. Patrick says:


    =IFERROR(INDIRECT("R" & SUBSTITUTE(TEXT(SMALL(IF(myrange "", ROW(myrange) + COLUMN(myrange)*0.00001),
    ROWS(A$1:A1)), "00000.00000"), ".", "C"), FALSE), "")

    but CTRL Shift Enter with {} before and after 🙂 😀

  13. Peter B says:

    Another possibility.
    This assumes that you have a row index 'k' to use in the SMALL function and a column index 'h' to identify the columns of 'myRange'.
    If you define 'coord' to refer to
    =k+h/10 [assuming h<10]
    then it will be possible to recover values later based upon location within 'myRange'. The formula 'nb' that identifies non-blanks by coordinates is given by
    = SMALL( IF(myRange"", coord), k )
    Finally, to unpick the pieces
    = INDEX( myRange, INT(nb), 10*MOD(nb, 1) )

  14. Peter B says:

    Whilst I am here and making trouble the PQ solution is also a tad over-complicated. All that is needed is to unpivot the entire table and remove the Attribute column.

    The advanced editor would show
    Source = Excel.CurrentWorkbook(){[Name="myRange"]}[Content],
    #"Unpivoted Columns" = Table.UnpivotOtherColumns(Source, {}, "Attribute", "Value"),
    #"Removed Columns" = Table.RemoveColumns(#"Unpivoted Columns",{"Attribute"})
    #"Removed Columns"

  15. vivian.liu says:

    1.fill the blank cells with 0
    2.the requested column value=sum of those mess number column
    but this can be used in only one column has value

  16. Juan Carlos Barreto says:


    And if we use the formula SEARCH (100000000, B5: F5)


  17. Daniel Dion says:

    Another approach with Power Query, it will still work if the number of columns changed:
    Source = Excel.CurrentWorkbook(){[Name="myrange"]}[Content],
    #"Added Custom" = Table.AddColumn(Source, "List", each Record.ToList(_)),
    #"Removed Other Columns" = Table.SelectColumns(#"Added Custom",{"List"}),
    #"Expanded LIst" = Table.ExpandListColumn(#"Removed Other Columns", "List"),
    #"Filtered Rows" = Table.SelectRows(#"Expanded LIst", each ([List] null))
    #"Filtered Rows"

Leave a Reply