Author: Oscar Cronquist Article last updated on August 10, 2018

Question: How do i create a flexible search formula to search a list?

Answer: The following formula let´s you search for a text string in a data set. Cells containing the text string are returned in cell range C10:C20.

Example, Cell C3 contains the text string "s". Names that contain text string s are instantly shown in cell range C10:C20.

Sheet: Search

useful search formula

Sheet "Names"

Array formula:

=IFERROR(INDEX(Names!$A$2:$A$9, SMALL(IF(ISERROR(SEARCH(Search!$C$3, Names!$A$2:$A$9)), "", MATCH(ROW(Names!$A$2:$A$9), ROW(Names!$A$2:$A$9))), ROW(A1))), "")

How to enter an array formula

  1. Select cell C10
  2. Click in formula bar
  3. Type above formula
  4. Press and hold CTRL + SHIFT simultaneously
  5. Press Enter
  6. Release all keys

If you did it right, the formula is now surrounded by curly brackets:

{=IFERROR(INDEX(Names!$A$2:$A$9, SMALL(IF(ISERROR(SEARCH(Search!$C$3, Names!$A$2:$A$9)), "", MATCH(ROW(Names!$A$2:$A$9), ROW(Names!$A$2:$A$9))), ROW(A1))), "")}

Explaining array formula in cell C10

Step 1 - Search for a specific text string in a range

SEARCH(Search!$C$3, Names!$A$2:$A$9))

becomes

SEARCH("s", {"Name"; "Richard Dent"; "Harvey Leeson"; "Mick Rooney"; "Steven Gold"; "Peter McDonald"; "Fred Swanson"; "Jack Door"; "Tim Woods"; 0})

and returns

{#VALUE!; 11; #VALUE!; 1; #VALUE!; 6; #VALUE!; 9}

Step 2 - Check if an error is returned

ISERROR(SEARCH(Search!$C$3, Names!$A$2:$A$9))

becomes

ISERROR({#VALUE!; 11; #VALUE!; 1; #VALUE!; 6; #VALUE!; 9})

and returns

{TRUE; FALSE; TRUE; FALSE; TRUE; FALSE; TRUE; FALSE}

Step 3 - Create row numbers for those values that are FALSE

IF(ISERROR(SEARCH(Search!$C$3, Names!$A$2:$A$9)), "", MATCH(ROW(Names!$A$2:$A$9), ROW(Names!$A$2:$A$9)))

becomes

IF({TRUE; FALSE; TRUE; FALSE; TRUE; FALSE; TRUE; FALSE}, "", {1;2;3;4;5;6;7;8})

and returns

{"";2;"";4;"";6;"";8}

Step 4 - Return the k-th smallest row number

SMALL(IF(ISERROR(SEARCH(Search!$C$3, Names!$A$2:$A$9)), "", MATCH(ROW(Names!$A$2:$A$9), ROW(Names!$A$2:$A$9))), ROW(A1))

becomes

SMALL({"";2;"";4;"";6;"";8}, ROW(A1))

becomes

SMALL({"";2;"";4;"";6;"";8}, 1)

and returns

2

Step 5 - Return name

INDEX(Names!$A$2:$A$9, SMALL(IF(ISERROR(SEARCH(Search!$C$3, Names!$A$2:$A$9)), "", MATCH(ROW(Names!$A$2:$A$9), ROW(Names!$A$2:$A$9))), ROW(A1)))

becomes

INDEX(Names!$A$2:$A$9, 2)

becomes

INDEX({"Richard Dent"; "Harvey Leeson"; "Mick Rooney"; "Steven Gold"; "Peter McDonald"; "Fred Swanson"; "Jack Door"; "Tim Woods"}, 2)

and returns

Harvey Leeson in cell C10.

Download excel *.xlsx file

Useful search formula.xlsx