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Adding A Blank Option in a Data Validation Drop Down List in Excel

By Chris Newman •  Updated: 05/11/21 •  3 min read
How to add blanks in an Excel validation list.

Why Do You Need A Blank Value Choice?

Sometimes you may come across instances where you want to include an option for your users to select a bank/empty value in a Data Validation drop-down list. This is definitely a “nice-to-have” tweak as users can simply hit their Delete or Backspace key to clear out the cell value. However, I have found this slight enhancement can make the user experience flow a bit more nicely as there could be doubt on the user’s end if they are allowed to have a blank value.

Let’s look at two ways you can get that blank value added into your Data Validation drop-down list. We will explore

  • Manually typing out the list choices
  • Referencing a cell range to pull in the list choices

Typing Out The List Values

A lesser-known feature of Data Validation Lists is that you can actually hardcode the values you want to display in your list. I typically prefer this route if I don’t want to risk someone accidentally changing the list options or if the list is containing something simple like yes/no options. Instead of referencing a cell range address, you can simply type the value you want to be listed and separate them with a comma.

The oddity though is that the universal value for blank in Excel (" ") DOES NOT give us a blank result in the data validation list. For one reason or another, you have to use two dashes to achieve this effect (--).

Excel Example Data Validation Drop-Down List

Please note, that even though the dashes show up as the selectable option in the drop-down menu, once selected, the cell value is empty/blank. The value will also be recognized as a blank value if pointed to in formulas.

Pulling Values From A Cell Range

If you want to use a range reference to populate your Data Validation List, you simply need to ensure the first row in your reference does not have a cell value. This will carry through to what is displayed in your drop-down menu.

Excel Example Data Validation Drop-Down List

I Hope This Helped!

Hopefully, I was able to explain how you can achieve the effect of having a no-value/empty option for your users to select in Data Validation drop-down lists. If you have any questions about this technique or suggestions on how to improve it, please let me know in the comments section below.

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Chris Newman

Chris Newman

Chris is a finance professional and Excel MVP recognized by Microsoft since 2016. With his expertise, he founded TheSpreadsheetGuru blog to help fellow Excel users, where he shares his vast creative solutions & expertise. In addition, he has developed over 7 widely-used Excel Add-ins that have been embraced by individuals and companies worldwide.