Hash Marks Displayed Instead of Cell Contents

Bob is having some problems getting Excel to display the text within a cell. What is happening is that Excel is displaying a series of # signs instead of the text. He notes that he is not even close to the character limit of the cell.

The answer here depends on what you mean by “the character limit of the cell.” Generally, such a statement means that you haven’t reached the limit of the text that Excel can store in the cell-approximately 32,000 characters. It is important to keep in mind that what Excel can store and what it can display are two different things, as will shortly be discussed. If, however, by “character limit” you mean that the cell is wider than what is stored in the cell, that is a separate issue.

First things first: Excel can store about 32,000 text characters in a cell, but it can only display up to 255 characters if the cell is formatted as text. If the cell contains more than 255 characters and the cell is formatted as text, then the hash marks are displayed. The solution is to change the format of the cell to general; then the text will display as you expect.

The more common occurrence is to see hash marks displayed when the cell contains a numeric (or date) value. If the cell is too narrow to display the value, then the hash marks are shown. They indicate that an “overflow” condition has occurred and that your value cannot be displayed as you want.

This is particularly common when displaying dates using a format that requires more horizontal space. For instance, if you display a date as “August 22, 2013,” that date takes more column width to display than does “8/13/10.” The solution is to simply widen the column so that the display doesn’t overflow the width.

Dates will also display hash marks if you attempt to display a date value outside the range of dates that Excel can handle (1/1/1900 through 12/31/9999).

You should also note that you might see hash marks appear if you change the size of the font used in a cell. Change the font to a larger size, and Excel may not be able to display the value horizontally. If you can’t widen the column then consider making the font smaller so that Excel can make the full value visible.