The LEN function is a computer program that you run from a worksheet cell formula. It counts how many characters are in a piece of text that you specify. You run the LEN function by typing its name in a formula then followed by the information it is suppose to use. The LEN worksheet function is generally used in combination with other TEXT functions as a nested function. A typical use of the LEN function would be to calculate how many characters are in a piece text then use that information to figure out how much text you want to return. For example, say you had text on the worksheet that varied in number of characters but you know you always wanted to knock the last 2 characters off the text because you did not need them. Then you could use the LEN function to calculate the total number of characters and subtract 2 from that number and use it as the second argument to the LEFT function. It is also used to help make decisions in formulas that use logic.

Whenever you type a formula in a worksheet cell, this is called syntax or grammar. The general LEN function syntax has a format like this when you type it in a worksheet cell:

=LEN(text)

Where text is called the function argument list. Remember, you are running a computer program at this point so the program needs information to operate and that is why there is an argument list. When you see an argument list and you see square brackets [ ] around the argument name, this means the argument is optional and you do not have to include it when typing unless you need it. So for the syntax above, you need to include 1 argument for the LEN function when typing it in a worksheet cell formula in order for it to calculate correctly. What argument value can be used is discussed below. Remember functions expect certain things in their argument lists, if you do not put the correct information in the list they will generate an error when run.

- text: This is the piece text that contains the characters you want to count. It can be a cell reference, constant like "Text" basically any formula that generates a piece of text.

Since the LEN function is a computer program, it runs when you press Enter to enter the formula that contains it. If any of the arguments are wrong, the function will return an error.

When typing the LEN function in a worksheet cell formula, you need to replace the text argument with something that generates text. Some typical arguments you can use are:

Argument Type | Cell Formula | Example Explanation |

Cell Reference | = LEN( A1 ) | LEN counts the number of characters in cell A1 |

Range Reference | = LEN( A1:A10 ) | LEN counts the number of characters in the range A1 to A10 and returns an array |

Cell and Range Names | = LEN( Reps ) | LEN counts the number of characters in the range named Reps * |

* It is possible to name a cell or group of cells on a worksheet and use that name in place of a range reference or cell reference. Consult Excel help on how to name a cell.

The worksheet seen below contains some typical worksheet formulas that run the LEN worksheet function. Pay close attention to the argument list and the syntax used to write the formula.

A | B | C | |

1 | Smith, David, | = LEFT( A1, LEN(A1) - 1 ) | Very simple formula that exlcudes the right most character from the text in cell A1. LEN is very useful when parsing data. |

2 | CA-1123 | = CODE( LEN( A2 ) ) | Very simple formula that determines if the right most piece of text is a non-printable ASCII character, typical place for it especially in database downloads. These characters mess up VLOOKUP, MATCH... and can a lot of times not be seen visually. Anything returning code 0-31 is a non-printable and should be removed. The CLEAN function will do this for you. |

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