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I Still Use a Plus Sign for Entering Formulas

February 24, 2018 - by Bill Jelen

I Still Use a Plus Sign for Entering Formulas

I recently asked people for a list of the worst rookie Excel mistakes they've seen. I had to wince when one of those "rookie" mistakes is something I still to do this today: start a formula with =+.

I cringed when the list of "worst rookie Excel mistakes" included something I still to do this day.

Here are some of the responses to my question:

  1. Counting on your fingers the number of columns instead of highlighting the columns to see the count in the tooltip.
  2. Printing out two worksheets to compare them instead of using VLOOKUP
  3. Changing font color manually instead of using conditional formatting
  4. People who use =SUM(A1+5) instead of =A1+5
  5. People who start formulas with =+

As I read through the responses, I was thinking, "Yes!, Yes!, Yes!, Yes!, Wait that's me!"

It is Excel Confession Saturday, but instead of changing my ways, I am actually going to try to defend them. The =+A2 formula is faster to enter.

Consider the example below. I need to multiply A2 by 2 and place the results in B2. I start in B2 and immediately head to the right side of my Excel keyboard. Press the Plus sign on the numeric keyboard, press the left arrow, press Enter.

Plus sign, Left Arrow, Enter
Plus sign, Left Arrow, Enter

When I press Enter, it is Excel who adds the equal sign. This has been the behavior in Excel for ever. Before there was Excel, the leading spreadsheet program was Lotus 1-2-3. Lotus formulas started with a plus sign. Excel knew that many of their customers were former Lotus 1-2-3 users and allowed people to keep using + signs to start a formula. But then Excel added the = sign, giving us =+A2.

I didn't type =+, Excel did it.
I didn't type =+, Excel did it.

I know that no one will be reading this Saturday article, so let me go out on a limb and say this is a bug with Excel, not a bug with me. And let me offer this as proof. In the February 2018 version of Office 365, if you use the keystrokes =, Left Arrow, Enter from cell B2, Excel now simply enters a formula of =A2. They replace the + sign with an equals sign, which was my intention in the first place.

The latest versions of Excel get rid of the leading plus sign.
The latest versions of Excel get rid of the leading plus sign.

There you have it... Excel should have been removing the plus sign this whole time.

Every Saturday, an admission of guilt. I will reveal my bad habits in Excel and discuss why you should do what I say instead of do what I do.

Excel Thought Of the Day

I've asked my Excel Master friends for their advice about Excel. Today's thought to ponder:

"Garbage in, insight out."

Title Photo: Moritz320 / pixabay

Title Photo: Keyboard photo: Kate Trysh / Unsplash

Bill Jelen is the author / co-author of
Microsoft Excel 2019 Inside Out

Dive into Microsoft Excel 2019–and really put your spreadsheet expertise to work. This supremely organized reference packs hundreds of timesaving solutions, tips, and workarounds–all you need to make the most of Excel’s most powerful tools for analyzing data and making better decisions.