Imagine having to sift through cell after cell of data to find, say, the surname of a particular customer! It would be like finding a needle in a haystack!
Fortunately, Google Sheets provides a Find and Replace feature that lets you search through entire workbooks.
In this tutorial, we will demonstrate, with an example, how to search in Google Sheets using its Find and Replace feature.
We will also explain what Find and Replace options are available to help you further fine-tune your Google spreadsheet search to get exactly what you’re looking for.
In the end, we will show you how to use Conditional Formatting in Google Sheets to find and highlight all matching cells in a range so that you can quickly identify and work with them.
Table of Contents
How To Search in Google Sheets
There are three ways:
Method 1: Press Ctrl + F and type the text in the box that comes up.
Method 2: Use one of the many Google Sheets search functions, e.g., MATCH, INDEX, FIND, and VLOOKUP
Method 2: Use Find and replace, like so:
- Go to “Edit” > “Find and replace.”
- Type in the word or words you want to search.
- Set the search settings to narrow the search.
- Click “Next” to see the next result if there are multiple results.
Search Using the Find Option to Highlight All Matching Cells in the Sheet
If you have cells with text and you want to find out the cells that contain specific text strings quickly, you can do that using the find option in Google Sheets.
Note: This is a part of the final replacement option we will cover in the next section. Use this option when you want to quickly search the entire worksheet and highlight the cells that have the matching string.
Suppose you have a data set as shown below, and you want to find out all the cells that have the name ‘Mark’ in it:
Below are the steps for how to search on Google Sheets using the find option:
- Open the worksheet that has the data.
- Use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+ F (for Windows) and Cmd + F (for Mac). This will open a small Find box at the top right part of your sheet.
- Enter the string that you want to search in the entire worksheet.
The above steps would highlight all the cells with the matching text string.
If you want to go through each cell individually, you can use the downward-pointing and upward-pointing arrows in the “Find” field.
You can also visually scan the result, as all the matching cells are highlighted in green.
This is a really quick method, and you can use it to find out if any cells match the text strings. You can also go through these one by one.
In case you need a little more control over how you can search for data in Google Sheets, you can use the full-blown find-and-replace dialogue box functionality.
Search Using Google Sheet SEARCH Functions
You can also use formulas to search Google Sheets. There are a number of search functions in Google Sheets, including the SEARCH function and the FIND function:
- SEARCH function – This searches a string within the text and returns the position of the string.
- FIND function – This does the same as the SEARCH function, but it is case-sensitive.
However, these Google Sheets functions are limited since they can only search within a cell. The best function to use instead would be the MATCH function, see the formula below:
MATCH(search_key, range, [search_type])
- The search key is the specific value you want to search. It can also be a cell reference to that value.
- The key range is the range of cells you want to perform the search in.
- The search type is an optional parameter that lets you define whether to return an exact match or a close match.
The MATCH function searches for the search key within a range and returns its position. If you want an exact match, you can add a 0 in the search type section.
In our example spreadsheet, we can use the search function to find Paula Lee in the table
- Type the MATCH function.
- Type the search key in quotation marks and add a comma.
- Select the range we’re searching in and add a comma.
- Add a 0 for an exact match.
- Click “Enter.”
The MATCH function returns a 2, which is the position of the search key in the range. Since we added a 0 for an exact match, the formula returns the first instance of the words Paula Lee.
Other useful functions include the LOOKUP function.
Search Using Find and Replace
Let us assume we have the following data in a single worksheet:
The dataset shown is a very simple one, and you can obviously find what you need by just looking at it. However, we’ve kept it simple so as to make the tutorial easy to understand.
Now let us say we want to find the cells containing the name “Paul.” Here are the steps you need to follow in order to find them:
- Click on the “Edit” menu from the menu bar.
- Select the “Find and replace“ option.
- This will open the “Find and replace“ dialog box. Alternatively, you can open this box directly by pressing Ctrl+H (if you’re on a PC) or Cmd+H (if you’re on a Mac).
- In the input box next to the label “Find,” type the word you want to search for. (In our example, we can type the word “Paul” since that’s what we’re looking for).
- Click on “Find.”
- This will select the first cell containing the word.
- If there are more instances of the word in the sheet, clicking on Find each time selects the next cell containing the word.
- When you reach the last occurrence of the word, you will see a message that says, “No more results found. Looping around” at the bottom of the dialog box.
- If you press the “Find” button after you see this message, “Find and replace“ will loop back to the first occurrence of the word.
- Once you are done searching (and/or replacing), press the “Done” button to close the Find and Replace dialog box.
Note: After Step 6, if you want to replace the word with something else, you can enter the new word next to the label “Replace with.” In that case, you will need to press the “Replace with” button (if you want to replace a word one at a time manually) or the “Replace all” button (if you want to replace all occurrences of the word at once).
Also note that you can use the Find and Replace dialog box to find what you need in the current sheet, all the sheets, or even a selected range of cells. This will jump to the cell with the results.
Just select the drop-down arrow list next to the label “Search,” and select your required option:
Find and Replace Options
If you take a look at the Find and Replace dialog box, you will find that there are many other options besides just the Find, Replace, and Search.
Each of these other options can help you further fine-tune your search so that you can find exactly what you need.
Let’s take a look at some of these options:
- Match Case: Selecting this option lets you make your search case-sensitive. So, if you have a cell that contains a “paul” (with a lowercase ‘p’), the search will ignore the cell.
- Match Entire Cell Contents: Selecting this option lets you search for cells that exactly match your search word. For example, if this box is checked, and your search word is “Paul Rodriguez,” then the search only considers the cell containing exactly the full name as a match. However, if the search word is just “Paul,” then the search ignores the full name since it is not an exact match.
- Search Using Regular Expressions: This option is used if you have a regular expression in your “Find” field. A regular expression is a sort of a string containing a particular pattern. If a cell’s content fits the pattern, it is considered a ‘match.’ Further explanation on Regular Expressions is beyond the scope of this tutorial, but if you want to learn more about it, you can click on the ‘Help’ link next to the option:
- Also Search within Formulae: In general, the Find and Replace tool searches through cell contents and results of formulae. If you also want to see if your search word is contained within the actual formula of cells, then you need to check this option.
Search Using Conditional Formatting (to Find and Highlight Cells with Search String)
The above method lets you find cells containing a search string and select them individually.
Instead of that, if you want to search and highlight all cells containing the search word, you can use the Google Sheets “Conditional Formatting” feature.
So, for the same dataset, if you want to look for all the cells containing the name “Paul,” follow these steps:
- Click the “Format” menu from the menu bar.
- Select the “Conditional Formatting“ option.
- This will open the “Conditional format rules“ sidebar on the right of the window.
- In the input box under “Apply to range,” type in the range of cells you want to search in or select the data range. In our example, we can type A2:B11.
- Selecting the specific range of cells will open a dialog box displaying the specific range that you selected. Once you’re done, you can click on “OK.” If you prefer to type the range manually, then you can ignore this step.
- Next, in the “Format Rules“ section, under “Format cells if,” click the drop-down arrow to add a search criteria.
- From the drop-down list that appears, select the “Text contains” option.
- You will see an input box below the drop-down list. Type in your search word here. If you’re looking for cells containing the word “Paul,” type in the word “Paul.”
- Under “Formatting style,” click the “Fill Color“ button.
- Select the color you want to use to highlight the matching cells/rows. We selected “yellow”.
- Finally, click the “Done” button to let conditional formatting do its work.
You should see all the cells containing the word “Paul” in your selected range, highlighted in yellow.
Other Search Options in Conditional Formatting
The Conditional format rules feature provides a number of options for you to find what you need.
If you click on the drop-down arrow under “Format cells if” (in the Format Rules section), you will find some of the following options:
- Text contains: To find cells that contain the search word as part of its contents.
- Text does not contain: To find cells that don’t contain the search word.
- Text starts with: To find cells that start with the search word.
- Text ends with: To find cells that end with the search word.
- Text is exactly: To find cells that contain exactly and only the search word.
There are a number of other such options, including an option to provide your own custom formula. You can use these options to fine-tune your search and highlight what you need.
In this way, you can quickly browse through the sheet to find your required cells and make the required changes.
In this tutorial, we saw two techniques in which you can search in Google Sheets and find particular cells with the matching data.
The first technique uses the Find and replace tool, which is the most commonly used search feature of Google Sheets.
The second technique uses the Conditional formatting feature to highlight matching cells in a given range.
Although this technique is not very commonly used for searches, you can use it to highlight vital cells in your sheets and perform analytical studies on your data.
Now you know how to search in Google Sheets using Find and Replace and a few other simple methods, searching your spreadsheets should be a breeze. If you found this guide useful, consider taking our comprehensive Google Sheets and Forms course to turn you into a power user ASAP.