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Fast Formula Copy

July 03, 2017 - by Bill Jelen

Fast Formula Copy

Tip #1 from the MrExcel XL book - fast ways to copy a formula down a column. 

You have thousands of rows of data. You’ve added a new formula in the top row of your data set, something like this =PROPER(A2&" "&B2), as shown below. You now need to copy the formula down to all of the rows of your data set.

Enter New Formula
Enter New Formula

Many people will grab the Fill Handle and start to drag down. But as you drag down, Excel starts going faster and faster. Starting in Excel 2010, there is a 200-microsecond pause at the last row of data. 200 microseconds is long enough for you to notice the pause but not long enough for you to react and let go of the mouse button. Before you know it, you’ve dragged the Fill Handle way too far.

Drag the Fill Handle
Drag the Fill Handle

The solution is to double-click the Fill Handle! Go to exactly the same spot where you start to drag the Fill Handle. The mouse pointer changes to a black plus sign. Double-click.

Double Click the Fill Handle
Double Click the Fill Handle

Excel looks at the surrounding data, finds the last row with data today, and copies the formula down to the last row of the data set.

In the past, empty cells in the column to the left would cause the “double-click the Fill Handle” trick to stop working just before the empty cell. But as you can see below, names like Madonna, Cher, or Pele will not cause problems. Provided that there is at least a diagonal path (for example, via B76-A77-B78), Excel will find the true bottom of the data set.

Blank Cells Trouble
Blank Cells Trouble

In my live Power Excel seminars, this trick always elicits a gasp from half the people in the room. It is my number-one time-saving trick.

Alternatives to Double-Clicking the Fill Handle

This trick is an awesome trick if all you've done to this point is drag the Fill Handle to the bottom of the data set. But there are even faster ways to solve this problem:

  • Use Tables. If you would select one cell in A1:B112 and press Ctrl + T, Excel will format the range as a table. Once you have a table, simply enter the formula in C2. When you press Enter, it will be copied to the bottom.
  • Use a complex but effective keyboard shortcut. This shortcut requires the adjacent column to have no empty cells. While it seems complicated to explain, the people who tell me about this shortcut can do the entire thing in the blink of an eye.

Here are the steps:

  1. From your newly entered formula in C2, press the Left Arrow key to move to cell B2.
  2. Press Ctrl + Down Arrow to move to the last row with data. In this case, B112.
  3. Press the Right Arrow key to return to the bottom of the mostly empty column C.

    Using Keyboard Shortcuts
    Using Keyboard Shortcuts
  4. From cell C112, press Ctrl + Shift + Up Arrow. This selects all of the blank cells next to your data, plus the formula in C2.
  5. Press Ctrl + D to fill the formula in C2 to all of the blanks in the selection. (Note that Ctrl+R fills right, which might be useful in other situations.)

    Ctrl + D to Fill Down
    Ctrl + D to Fill Down

As an alternative, you can get the same results by pressing Ctrl + C before step 1 and replacing step 5 with Ctrl + V.

Thanks to the following people who suggested this tip: D. Carmichael, Shelley Fishel, Dawn Gilbert, @Knutsford_admi, Francis Logan, Michael Ortenberg, Jon Paterson, Mike Sullivan and Greg Lambert Lane suggested Ctrl + D. Bill Hazlett, author of Excel for the Math Classroom, pointed out Ctrl + R. It was Em DeMarco's cartoon posted on Twitter that was the inspiration for hiring illustrators for this book.

Watch Video

  • Tip #1 from the MrExcel XL book - fast ways to copy a formula down a column. Also in this video:
  • Ctrl + Down Arrow to move to end of a block of data
  • Ctrl + Shift + Up Arrow to select to top of a block of data
  • Ctrl + D to fill the formula from the first row of a selection down
  • Double-click the fill handle
  • PROPER function
  • & character for concatenation
  • ROMAN function
  • ARABIC function

Title Photo: Yolanda / pixabay

Bill Jelen is the author / co-author of
Excel Dynamic Arrays Straight to the Point

The new Dynamic Array Functions are just one side-effect of an effort to completely rewrite the Calculation Engine in Excel. Joe McDaid and the rest of the CALC team have the laid the groundwork for all future functions in Excel. Yes, the first crop of SORT, SORTBY, FILTER, UNIQUE, SEQUENCE and RANDARRAY are awesome and powerful, but they are just the first of many new functions that will come to Office 365 over the coming years.