Excel Tutorial: How To Match Two Data Sets In Excel


Matching two data sets in Excel is a crucial task for anyone working with large amounts of information. Whether you're a business analyst, researcher, or student, accurately merging and comparing data sets is essential for making informed decisions and drawing insightful conclusions.

In this tutorial, we will provide a step-by-step guide on how to match two data sets in Excel, using various functions and techniques to ensure seamless integration of information.

Key Takeaways

  • Matching data sets in Excel is essential for informed decision-making and drawing insightful conclusions
  • Identifying key columns and common identifiers is crucial for seamless integration of data sets
  • Utilize VLOOKUP and INDEX/MATCH functions for efficient matching of data sets
  • Conditional formatting can be used to visually identify matching data
  • Address duplicates, inconsistencies, and ensure data cleanliness before matching

Understanding the Data Sets

When matching two data sets in Excel, it's important to have a clear understanding of the data within each set. This involves identifying key columns and ensuring the data sets have a common identifier for matching.

A. Identifying the key columns in each data set

Before attempting to match data sets, it's crucial to identify the key columns in each set. These key columns are the ones that contain the unique identifiers or common data points that will be used to match the sets together. This could be an ID number, a product code, a customer name, or any other unique identifier that both data sets have in common.

B. Ensuring the data sets have a common identifier for matching

Once the key columns have been identified, it's essential to ensure that both data sets have a common identifier for matching. This might involve cleaning the data to ensure consistency in the formatting of the identifier, or it might require the creation of a new column that combines data from multiple columns to create a unique identifier. Having a common identifier is crucial for accurately matching the data sets and avoiding errors in the process.

Using VLOOKUP Function

The VLOOKUP function in Excel is a powerful tool for matching data sets from two different tables. It allows you to search for a value in the first column of a table array and return a value in the same row from another column. This is extremely useful when you need to bring in related data from another table, such as matching employee IDs with their names or matching product codes with their prices.

Explanation of how the VLOOKUP function works

The VLOOKUP function takes four arguments: lookup_value, table_array, col_index_num, and range_lookup. The lookup value is the value you want to search for, the table array is the range of cells that contains the data you want to search in, the col_index_num is the column number in the table array from which to retrieve the value, and the range_lookup is either TRUE (approximate match) or FALSE (exact match).

Steps for using VLOOKUP to match data sets

To use the VLOOKUP function to match data sets in Excel, follow these steps:

  • Identify the common field between the two data sets that you want to match.
  • Ensure that the common field is present in both data sets and that it is in the same format.
  • Select the cell where you want the matched data to appear.
  • Enter the VLOOKUP formula, specifying the lookup value, table array, col_index_num, and range_lookup arguments.
  • Press Enter to execute the formula and see the matched data appear in the selected cell.

Examples of common errors and how to troubleshoot them

Common errors when using the VLOOKUP function include #N/A errors (indicating that the lookup value was not found) and incorrect results due to the range_lookup argument being set incorrectly. To troubleshoot these errors:

  • Double-check the lookup value to ensure it exists in the table array.
  • Verify that the range_lookup argument is set to the appropriate value based on whether you need an exact or approximate match.
  • Ensure that the col_index_num is the correct column number in the table array from which to retrieve the value.
  • If using relative cell references, make sure the formula is copied correctly to other cells with the correct references.

Utilizing INDEX/MATCH Function

When it comes to matching two data sets in Excel, one of the most efficient ways to do so is by utilizing the INDEX/MATCH function. This powerful combination offers several advantages over the traditional VLOOKUP function and provides a more flexible and dynamic approach to matching data sets.

Advantages of using INDEX/MATCH over VLOOKUP

  • Flexibility: Unlike VLOOKUP, INDEX/MATCH can work with data sets located in any column and doesn't require the lookup value to be in the leftmost column. This provides greater flexibility when working with data sets.
  • Dynamic Range: INDEX/MATCH can handle changes in the data range more effectively compared to VLOOKUP. This means that if new data is added or the range is shifted, the INDEX/MATCH function will automatically adjust to accommodate these changes.
  • Performance: INDEX/MATCH is generally faster than VLOOKUP, especially when dealing with large data sets. This can significantly improve the efficiency of matching data in Excel.

Step-by-step guide on using INDEX/MATCH to match data sets

Now, let's walk through a step-by-step guide on how to use the INDEX/MATCH function to match two data sets in Excel.

  • Step 1: Identify the lookup value in the first data set and the corresponding column in the second data set where you want to retrieve the matching value.
  • Step 2: Use the MATCH function to find the position of the lookup value in the first data set. This will return the row number where the lookup value is located.
  • Step 3: Utilize the INDEX function to retrieve the value from the second data set based on the row number obtained from the MATCH function.
  • Step 4: Combine the MATCH and INDEX functions to create a dynamic formula that can be copied across the entire data set to match the values.

Comparing the performance of INDEX/MATCH with VLOOKUP

After understanding the advantages and steps of using INDEX/MATCH, it's important to compare its performance with that of the traditional VLOOKUP function.

  • Performance: As mentioned earlier, INDEX/MATCH generally outperforms VLOOKUP, especially when dealing with large data sets. The flexibility and dynamic range of INDEX/MATCH make it a more efficient choice for matching data in Excel.
  • Accuracy: INDEX/MATCH is also known for its accuracy, as it doesn't rely on the position of the lookup value and can handle changes in the data range more effectively compared to VLOOKUP.

Conditional Formatting for Visual Matching

Conditional formatting is a powerful tool in Excel that allows you to apply formatting to cells based on certain conditions or criteria. This can be extremely useful when it comes to matching two different data sets and visually identifying the similarities and differences between them.

Introduction to conditional formatting

Conditional formatting allows you to easily spot trends and patterns in your data by applying formatting such as colors, icons, and data bars to cells based on their values. This can help you quickly identify matching or non-matching data points without having to manually compare each individual cell.

Using conditional formatting to visually identify matching data

One of the most common uses of conditional formatting in data matching is to highlight matching data points in two different data sets. To do this, you can use the Highlight Cells Rules option under the Conditional Formatting menu to apply a specific format to cells that meet certain criteria, such as being equal to a certain value.

For example, if you have two columns of data that you want to match, you can select the cells in one column, then go to the Conditional Formatting menu, choose New Rule, and select Format only cells that contain. From there, you can choose the formatting you want to apply to matching cells, such as a fill color or font style.

Tips for customizing conditional formatting for different data sets

When matching different data sets, it's important to customize your conditional formatting rules to fit the specific criteria of your data. This may involve adjusting the rule settings, choosing different formatting options, or using additional conditions to capture the nuances of your data matching process.

  • Consider using a combination of rules: Instead of relying on a single rule to match your data, consider using multiple rules to capture different types of matches, such as exact matches, partial matches, or matches within a certain range.
  • Use conditional formatting with formulas: In addition to the built-in rule options, you can also create custom conditional formatting rules using formulas to match more complex patterns or conditions in your data.
  • Test and refine your formatting: It's important to test your conditional formatting rules on different data sets and adjust them as needed to ensure they accurately capture the matching criteria you're looking for.

Dealing with Duplicates and Inconsistencies

When working with two data sets in Excel, it is crucial to ensure that the data is clean and consistent before attempting to match them. This involves identifying and removing duplicates, as well as addressing any inconsistencies in formatting and structure.

Identifying and removing duplicates in data sets

Duplicate data can skew the results when attempting to match two data sets. To identify and remove duplicates in Excel, you can use the Remove Duplicates function. This tool allows you to select the columns where you want to identify duplicates and remove them from the data set.

Addressing inconsistencies in formatting and structure

Inconsistencies in formatting and structure can make it challenging to accurately match data sets. One way to address this is by using the Text to Columns function in Excel. This tool allows you to split data into separate columns based on a delimiter, such as a comma or space, which can help standardize the formatting across both data sets.

Ensuring data cleanliness before matching

Before attempting to match two data sets in Excel, it is essential to ensure that the data is clean and free of any errors. This includes checking for missing values, correcting any spelling or syntax errors, and removing any unnecessary characters or symbols.


In this tutorial, we covered the essential steps for matching two data sets in Excel. We learned how to use VLOOKUP and INDEX-MATCH formulas to combine and compare data from different tables. By understanding the key points of this tutorial, you can now efficiently match data sets within Excel and derive meaningful insights from your data.

Now that you have grasped these concepts, I encourage you to practice and further explore Excel's data matching features. The more you familiarize yourself with these tools, the more confident and proficient you will become in working with data in Excel.

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