Microsoft Office Tutorials and References
In Depth Information
Tracing Precedents and Dependents
Solving Formula
Errors
Tip: Step-by-step evaluation isn’t just for solving errors. It can also help you understand why a formula
doesn’t produce the result you expect. You can use the Evaluate Formula dialog box with a formula that
doesn’t cause an error in exactly the same way as one that does. By watching the calculation proceed
stepby-step, you may realize that the order of operations Excel follows is subtly different from the order you
expected. You can then edit the formula accordingly.
Tracing Precedents and Dependents
The Evaluate Formula dialog box is one way you can examine complex formulas’
anatomy. However, depending on the complexity of your formulas, you can end up
having to move through a long series of steps before you find the problem. In this
case, you may be interested in using a different approach, one that uses Excel’s ability
to graphically trace linked cells. This feature isn’t any better or worse than the
Evaluate Formula dialog box—it’s just another tool that you can use to resolve problems,
depending on the situation and your own preference.
First, here’s a quick review of how Excel thinks about precedents and dependents.
Consider the following formula:
=A1+B1
If this formula is in cell C1, that makes A1 and B1 precedents of C1. In other words,
C1 relies on the values in A1 and B1 in order to do its work. If either of these cells
contains an error value, the problem spreads into C1. You can say that C1 is the
dependent of both A1 and B1.
Excel’s tracing features let you see a graphical representation of these relationships—
in the form of blue arrows—right on your worksheet without needing to look in
another window or dialog box.
To see tracing in action, move to a cell that contains one or more cell references, and
then choose Formulas Formula Auditing Trace Precedents. Excel displays solid
blue arrows that link the cells together. If you click Trace Precedents in the cell C1
that contains that formula = , you see two arrows. One points from A1 to C1, B1
and the other points from B1 to C1. Figures 18-3 and 18-4 show examples.
Note: If a formula references a cell in another worksheet or workbook, Excel draws a dotted line linking
your cell to a small grid icon. This icon represents the other worksheet or workbook and can’t see the
actual cell that the formula links to.

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