Excel Not Sorting Numbers Correctly (4 Reasons with Solutions)

In Microsoft Excel, we store data randomly. Then we process that data according to our needs and get the desired result. Excel has some built-in features according to our need to process data. One of them is to sort data. But, sometimes we face problems while sorting a bunch of numbers. We will discuss how to solve the problem of numbers not sorting correctly by Excel.


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4 Reasons and Solutions with Excel Not Sorting Numbers Correctly

There are several reasons why sorting numbers does not work correctly in Excel. Specifically, we’ve found 4 reasons.

  • Non-printable characters in numeric data
  • Leading or trailing spaces inside the data
  • Numbers are accidentally formatted as Text
  • Numbers generated using RAND, RANDARRAY, or RANDBETWEEN functions

In the sections below, we will discuss these reasons, how to identify them, and their solutions.


Reason 1: Numbers Have Non-printable Characters

Let’s have a look at the following dataset.  It has some product price data which are collected from the internet. We have copied them from the internet and formatted the prices in Excel Accounting format. (Though the first 4 entries are not formatted accordingly due to a so far unknown issue.

Numbers Have Non-printable Characters and Hence Excel Not Sorting Them Correctly

Now, let’s try to sort the data.

  • First, select all the cells of the Price column.
  • Press the right button of the mouse. Choose the Sort option from the Context Menu.
  • Select the Sort A to Z option.

Now, look at the result.

Numbers Have Non-printable Characters and Hence Excel Not Sorting Them Correctly

Sorting is not performed successfully here. The bottom 4 cells are sorted in the wrong manner


How to Detect the Issue

Now, we need to find out how many non-printable characters are added to our desired data. We will use the Excel LEN function to find out the number of objects in each cell. Press Ctrl+Z to undo the previously applied sort operation.

  • Add a column named No. of Char.
  • Go to Cell D5 and put the following formula.

=LEN(C5)

  • Now, press the Enter button and drag the Fill Handle icon downwards.

In the new column, the no. of the character of each cell has shown. In Cell D6 and D11, we have 2.  That means their corresponding cells C6 and C11 contain 2 characters. But we can see only a single numeric character there. So, there is One (1), the numeric character at cells C6 and C11.


Solution: Remove the Non-printable Characters with CLEAN Function

To sort the whole data successfully, we need to remove those non-printable characters. The Excel CLEAN function easily removes those non-printable characters.

  • Add a new column named Verified Data on the dataset.
  • Now, go to Cell E5 and paste the formula below.

=CLEAN(C5)

Numbers Have Non-printable Characters and Hence Excel Not Sorting Them Correctly

  • Press Enter and pull the Fill Handle icon towards the last cell.

Numbers Have Non-printable Characters and Hence Excel Not Sorting Them Correctly

  • Now copy the numbers from the Cleaned Data column, click on Cell E5 and type ALT+H+V+V to paste them as values.
  • Then click on the Error icon and select the Convert to Number option.

  • Now, perform the sort operation as shown previously.

After removing all the non-printable characters, data has been sorted successfully.


Reason 2: Presence of Leading or Trailing Spaces

If the numbers contain leading or trailing spaces in them, then you will face sorting issues with such numbers. To understand clearly, let’s see the following example.

Assume that we are working with the following dataset. We have targeted to sort the price of the items from the list.

Excel not sorting numbers correctly due to having leading or trailing spaces

Notice that all data are not right-aligned in the Price column.

Now, we will try to sort the data in the Price column from the smallest to the largest.

Excel not sorting numbers correctly due to having leading or trailing spaces

Here, the last 3 cells are not sorted accordingly.


How to Detect the Issue

If your numeric data is mixed with spaces in them, they are not actually numbers anymore. So you can check whether they are numeric values or not if you fail to sort them properly.

We can use the Excel ISNUMBER function to perform this checking. Just follow the steps below.

  • First, add a column named Status.
  • Then put the following formula on Cell D5.

=ISNUMBER(C5)

  • Now, press the Enter button and expand to the rest of the cells of that column.

We get TRUE if the object is a number otherwise, we will get FALSE. The last 3 objects of the Price column contain data; those are not pure numbers. There are leading and trailing spaces with the data.


Solution: Get Rid of the Spaces with TRIM Function

As the TRIM function removes extra spaces from a given set of Excel data, we can use it for our cause too.

Steps:

  • Add another column named Modified Data.
  • Go to Cell E5 and put the following formula.

=TRIM(C5)

  • Now, press the Enter button and pull towards the last cell.

Solution: Excel not sorting numbers correctly due to having leading or trailing spaces

  • Now, sort the dataset from smallest to largest.

We successfully performed sorting.


Reason 3: Numeric Values Accidentally Formatted as Text and Not Being Sorted Properly

We get another interesting problem here. In our dataset, we can see all our numbers in the Price column. But, some of the cells contain data that are not in Number format but are in Text format. Here is the dataset.

Numeric Values Accidentally Formatted as Text and Not Being Sorted Properly

  • Now, sort the data from the smallest to the largest to see what happens after the operation.

We can see the last 4 cells remain unsorted.


How to Detect the Issue

We need to find out whether they are numbers or not first. The ISNUMBER function is used for this.

  • Go to Cell D5 in the Status column.
  • Put the formula below.

=ISNUMBER(C5)

  • Now, press the Enter button and extend that.

We can see that FALSE in the last 4 cells. That means those are not numbers. We need to get the numeric value of those text data.


Solution 1: Convert Text to Numeric Data with VALUE Function

We will use the VALUE function here. This VALUE function will extract the numeric value from a text reference.

  • Go to Cell E5 and paste the following formula.

=VALUE(C5)

Solution: Numeric Values Accidentally Formatted as Text and Not Being Sorted Properly

  • Now, press the Enter button and pull to the last cell.

Solution: Numeric Values Accidentally Formatted as Text and Not Being Sorted Properly

We get numeric values from the text data.

  • Now, perform the sort operation from the smallest to the largest.

Now, the data are sorted correctly.


Solution 2: Convert Text into Number Using a Default Button

We have an alternative solution to this problem. That is to convert the text values into numbers and sort them.

  • Press Cell C11 which contains a text value.
  • A warning button will show with multiple options.
  • Choose the Convert to Number option.

Solution: Numeric Values Accidentally Formatted as Text and Not Being Sorted Properly

  • Do this for other cells that contain text values.

  • Now, we have converted all the values to numbers. So, sort the number from smallest to largest.

We get the sorted result here.


Reason 4: Numbers Generated with Excel RAND or RANDBETWEEN Functions

Sometimes we generate random numbers in Excel using  RAND or RANDBETWEEN functions. One issue lies with such numbers- whenever you perform an operation within the range of cells that have random numbers, the numbers frequently change. So when you try to sort such random numbers, it will give you the proper results.


Solution: Copy the Generated Numbers and Paste Them into the Same Place

First, we will convert the data into fixed values and then perform the sort operation.

  • Select all the cells of the Age column.
  • Copy them by pressing Ctrl+C.
  • Now, press the right button of the mouse.
  • Select Values(V) from the Context Menu.

Solution: Numbers Generated with Excel RAND or RANDBETWEEN Functions Have Issues with Sorting

  • Here, we get fixed values. They will not behave like random data from now.

Solution: Numbers Generated with Excel RAND or RANDBETWEEN Functions Have Issues with Sorting

  • Now, sort the Age data from the smallest to the largest.


Conclusion

In this article, we’ve shown which problems we face when performing sort operations. After detecting the problem we’ve shown their solutions too. I hope this will satisfy your needs. Please have a look at our website Exceldemy.com and give your suggestions in the comment box.

Alok

Alok

Hello, this is Alok. I am working as an Excel & VBA Content Developer at Exceldemy. I want to provide solutions to various Excel-based problems. I completed my study at East West University major in Telecommunications Engineering. I love traveling, reading books, playing cricket.

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