Match Columns with VLOOKUP Function

By Jack Dougherty, last updated March 16, 2017

Here's a common problem: Sheet 1 contains a long roster of students enrolled in our Data Visualization For All course, with a two-letter code for their nation. Sheet 2 contains the list of codes for each nation. How can we quickly match up this information in one sheet, so that each row contains the nation for each student?

Screenshot: Problem - How to match columns in two sheets?
Screenshot: Problem - How to match columns in two sheets?

One solution: Spreadsheets contain a VLOOKUP function, which "looks up" data across two or more vertical columns, and automatically fills in matching entries. This tutorial demonstrates how to set up this calculation in Google Sheets and Excel

Screenshot: Solution - Use the VLookup function
Screenshot: Solution - Use the VLookup function

Video with step-by-step tutorial for Google Sheets

1) Click this link and Save to download to your computer: sample-students-nations in .ODS format. ODS means OpenDocument System, a generic multi-tab format that most spreadsheet tools can easily open.

2) To upload the downloaded file to Google Sheets, see the Upload Files and Convert tutorial in this book, and remember that Settings (gear symbol) must be set to Convert files to Google format. Or, open the file with Microsoft Excel or LibreOffice, and the directions below will be similar.

2) In the students sheet, type "nation" as a column header into cell E1.

3) Click in cell E2, start typing "=VLOOKUP" and the spreadsheet tool will suggest that you complete the formula in this format:

VLOOKUP(search_key, range, index, [is_sorted])
  • search_key = the Sheet 1 cell we are trying to match
  • range = the columns in Sheet 2 where matches may exist
  • index = the column in the Sheet 2 range that contains the desired result, where 1 = first column, 2 = second column, etc.
  • [is_sorted] = if the first column of the range is sorted, enter "true" to find the closest match; otherwise enter "false" to return exact matches only

4) You can type in the formula, or fill it out by clicking on cells, columns, and sheets as shown in the video above.

Data Visualization For All is copyrighted by Jack Dougherty and contributors and distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may freely share and modify this content for non-commercial purposes, with a source credit to http://DataVizForAll.org.
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