Top 6 Fixes for ‘Reference Isn’t Valid’ Error in Microsoft Excel for Windows

Even if you are an experienced Excel user, you may sometimes encounter errors that are difficult to solve. One example is the ‘Reference is not valid’ error in Excel, which usually occurs when there is a problem with the your referencing data source. If you are facing the same issue, this guide can help.

Top Fixes for ‘Reference Isnt Valid Error in Microsoft Excel for Windows

This particular Excel error can prevent you from changing cell values, performing calculations, and creating pivot tables. However, there is no need to be concerned, as the solutions listed below can help you fix the ‘Reference isn’t valid’ error on your Windows 10 or 11 PC.

1. Close Excel Completely and Reopen It

Microsoft Excel sometimes gets stuck with the ‘Reference isn’t valid’ error due to temporary issues with one of its processes. Several users on a Microsoft Community post reported getting rid of this error by closing Excel completely and reopening it. You can also give it a try.

Step 1: Press the Ctrl + Shift + Esc keyboard shortcut to open the Task Manager.

Step 2: Under Processes, locate and select Microsoft Excel. Right-click on it and select End task.

Force Close Microsoft Excel on Windows

Reopen your Excel file and see if you still get the error.

2. Unhide Worksheets

Another common reason Excel may throw this error is if your formula refers to a cell or data source that is no longer valid or available. This can happen if you have hidden some worksheets in your Excel file. Here’s how you can unhide them.

Step 1: Open your Excel workbook, right-click on any worksheet tab at the bottom, and select Unhide.

Unhide Excel Sheet

Step 2: Select the sheet you want to unhide and click OK.

Unhide Excel Sheet in a Workbook

3. Exit Design Mode

Editing cells in Excel’s Design Mode can also trigger the ‘Reference isn’t valid’ error. If that’s the case, all the ribbon items under the Developer tab will also appear grayed out. Here’s what you can do to fix that and resolve the error.

Step 1: In your Excel workbook, select OK when the ‘Reference isn’t valid’ dialog box appears.

Reference Is Not Valid Error

Step 2: Click the X icon on the toolbar at the top.

Cancel Button in Excel

Step 3: Click the Design Mode button to deactivate it.

Exit Design Mode in Excel

After you complete the above steps, you can edit your spreadsheet without any errors.

4. Enter the Correct Cell Range Name in the Pivot Table

While creating a pivot table, do you see the ‘Data source reference is not valid’ error in Excel? That could happen if you enter an invalid or unavailable cell range name in the pivot table field. To avoid this, you can create a new named range and then use it to create a pivot table.

Step 1: Open your Excel workbook and select the cells you want to include in the named range.

Select Cells in Excel

Step 2: Navigate to the Formulas tab and click on Name Manager.

Name Manager in Excel

Step 3: Click the New button.

Name a Cell Range in Excel

Step 4: Type in a name for the cell range in the Name field and click OK.

Name Cell Ranges in Excel

Step 5: Switch to the Insert tab and click on PivotTable. Enter a name for the cell range in the Table/Range field and then click OK to create a pivot table.

Create Pivot Table in Excel

5. Rename the Excel File

Using squared brackets in an Excel filename can also give rise to errors like ‘Reference isn’t valid’ on Windows. You need to rename your file to remove any square brackets and avoid errors.

Press the Windows key + E keyboard shortcut to open File Explorer. Locate and select your Excel file, and click the rename icon at the top. Remove any square brackets from the name and press Enter. After that, try using your Excel file again.

Rename Excel File on Windows 1

6. Save the Excel File to Your Local Drive

Such Excel errors can also occur if you edit a workbook that isn’t stored on your local drive. You can try saving your Excel file on your local drive to see if that solves the problem.

Open your Excel file and press the F12 key on your keyboard. Navigate to your preferred location in the Save As dialog box and click OK.

Save As Dialog in Excel

Open the Excel file saved on your drive, and you can use it without errors.

Unlock the Power of Valid References

Microsoft Excel is a popular tool for creating anything from a basic spreadsheet to complex financial models. However, errors like ‘Reference isn’t valid’ in Excel can sometimes prevent you from modifying Excel workbooks. Hopefully, that is no longer the case, and one of the above tips has helped you resolve the issue.

Last updated on 20 October, 2023

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