How to Use the Google Sheets INDIRECT Function

Published: February 10, 2024 - 3 min read

Julian Alvarado

The INDIRECT function in Google Sheets is a versatile tool that enables users to construct cell references dynamically. 

It is particularly useful when dealing with formulas that require variable inputs. 

This guide simplifies how INDIRECT allows dynamic cell references, perfect for formulas that need to adapt to changing data. 

Understanding the INDIRECT Function

The INDIRECT function in Google Sheets is a powerful tool that interprets a text string as a cell reference. It enables dynamic referencing and manipulation of data across different sheets and ranges within a spreadsheet.

Basic Syntax and Arguments

Syntax: INDIRECT(cell_reference_as_string, [is_a1_notation])

  • cell_reference_as_string: This is a text string that INDIRECT will interpret as a cell reference or a range of cells.
  • is_a1_notation (Optional): A logical value (TRUE by default) that specifies which notation to use. If TRUE or omitted, A1 notation is used; if FALSE, R1C1 notation is used.

A1 vs. R1C1 Notation

  • A1 Notation: It references cells by columns labeled with letters (A, B, C, …) and rows with numbers (1, 2, 3, …). For instance, “A1” points to the cell at column A and row 1.
  • R1C1 Notation: Columns and rows are both referenced by numbers (R1C1 refers to row 1, column 1). This notation is often used when referencing cells in a loop or when the column needs to be calculated.

Working with Named Ranges

A named range is a custom, human-readable name for a cell or range of cells. The INDIRECT function can reference these named ranges to simplify formula readability and maintenance. Instead of remembering a cryptic range like ‘Sheet2’!B2, users can define it with a meaningful name and use INDIRECT to reference it, enhancing the clarity and flexibility of spreadsheet formulas.

Practical Applications of INDIRECT

The INDIRECT function enhances Google Sheets with dynamic cell referencing capabilities, allowing for adaptable formulas that can change based on inputs or sheet structure alterations.

Creating Dynamic References

Using INDIRECT, one can create formulas that adapt to data changes without manual updates. 

A common application is in creating drop-down lists where the selection determines which cells to reference. For instance, a cell contains the column letter and another the row number; combining these with an ampersand (&) inside INDIRECT results in a dynamic cell address.

Combining INDIRECT with Other Functions

INDIRECT becomes more powerful when paired with other functions. It can work alongside VLOOKUP to search across multiple sheets, or with MATCH to locate a value within a specified range. 

A complex formula may involve INDIRECT within a SUMIF to tally only cells meeting certain criteria, where cell references shift based on conditions or external inputs.

Handling Multiple Sheets and Cells

For individuals dealing with datasets across various sheet tabs, INDIRECT can be a tool for unifying data without constantly adjusting sheet names in formulas. 

By concatenating sheet names stored as text in one cell with a range of cells in another, one forms a cell reference that INDIRECT can use, streamlining tasks like summarizing data from multiple worksheets or troubleshooting broken links due to sheet name changes.

Conclusion

The INDIRECT function adds adaptability to your Google Sheets, making it easier to manage dynamic data sets. 

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Julian Alvarado Content Marketing
Julian is a dynamic B2B marketer with 8+ years of experience creating full-funnel marketing journeys, leveraging an analytical background in biological sciences to examine customer needs.
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