How To Use the Excel LEFT Function

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published December 14, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

If you're trying to organize or collect specific information from an Excel spreadsheet, consider using the LEFT function. This function is simple to implement but can help you identify relevant data from all types of spreadsheets. Learning how to use it can help you complete your own personal and professional projects. In this article, we discuss what the Excel LEFT function is and what its benefits are, including three simple steps on how to use it.

Related: 25 Best Excel Tips To Optimize Your Use

What is the Excel LEFT function?

The Excel LEFT function is a text-based function you can use to extract a specific number of characters from the left of the inputted text string. Depending on the number that you input into the function and the length of the text in the equation, the return value can be one or more characters. You can write the formula or syntax for this function as:

LEFT (text, [num_chars])

In this formula, the "text" input represents the characters or text string that you want to extract from. The "num_chars" input represents the number of characters to extract from the text string, starting from the far left side.

Alternatively, you could use the following formula:

LEFTB (text, [num_bytes])

With this, you get the same output, but "LEFTB" and "num_bytes" determine how many characters to extract based on bytes.

Here are some basic rules to remember about the Excel LEFT function:

  • The "num_chars" input has to be greater than or equal to 0.

  • If you omit the "num_chars" input completely, then the program automatically assumes it to be the value of 1.

  • If the "num_chars" input is greater than the text length, "LEFT" extracts all the text.

Related: 10 Common Excel Formula Errors (And How To Fix Them)

Benefits of the LEFT function

There are many benefits of using the LEFT function, such as:

  • Ease of use: The LEFT function is simple to use and only requires a few inputs to generate the information that you want for a specific project or initiative. This simplicity means that you can save a significant amount of effort from having to perform individual or micro searches for key pieces of information.

  • Quick results: Because the LEFT function is easy to use, you can gain quick results. For example, if you had a spreadsheet that contained each customer's name with their address, you can quickly use the LEFT function to gather only their names or their physical addresses.

  • Increased organization: This function helps you organize your spreadsheet because it generates a clear separation between the original data and the new data you collect. This means you can make more distinctions between your information and can house them neatly in their own sections.

  • Optimized processes: The LEFT function can significantly optimize your processes for gathering, reviewing and assessing which information is most useful for your particular initiative. The ability to optimize your data extraction processes not only saves you time, but can also save you money from expensive labor costs.

  • Informed decision-making: Once you gather the most relevant information from your spreadsheet, you can make more informed decisions about how to process and use that data to further your goals and initiatives. If you find any discrepancies in the given data, you can determine the best actions to take to resolve those concerns and issues.

  • Identify inaccuracies: Sometimes you may encounter errors in the type of data you currently have, such as it being outdated or from the wrong source. You can use the LEFT function to identify these data inaccuracies and gather the correct information.

  • Separation of information: The most important use of the LEFT function is that it enables you to separate large amounts of information into individual sections. There are many reasons this may be useful to you, such as being able to determine how much money someone owes or identifying what each person's phone number is within a large database.

Related: 106 Shortcuts for Excel To Save You Time

How to use Excel's LEFT function

Here are three steps to use the LEFT function in Excel:

1. Locate or input your datasets

Identify the datasets you want to use within your spreadsheet. If you don't have a spreadsheet already made, start a new one and input all of your datasets accordingly. Otherwise, locate the collection of data that you want to extract information from. You can use this formula for virtually any type of spreadsheet, like a database of contact information or a financial records document.

Related: Basic Excel Formulas and How To Use Them

2. Identify the information you want to collect

Once you have identified the datasets you plan to work with, determine the information you want to gather from it. For example, if your spreadsheet is a database that has both a customer's name and phone number, you can decide if you want to collect the phone number or the name from the dataset. You might also decide to only collect a small portion of that information to use as an identifier. For example, you can decide to only extract the area codes instead of the entire phone number.

3. Use the LEFT function

After you identify the information you want to extract from the datasets, you can use the LEFT function. Take a look at the example spreadsheet below:

Row**Phone number**Area codeA1404-123-4561404A2770-565-0000770A3404-982-5565404A4678-073-1112678Using the LEFT function for the first row, the formula would look like "= LEFT (A1,3)." In this scenario, A1 is the row that you're extracting information from and three is how many characters from the left you are gathering. Since the number is three, you're only going to extract the first three numbers from the entire phone number. Therefore, the result of the function 404. To use this formula for all the rows, you can replicate the function down the entire "Area code" or results column.

Please note that none of the organizations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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