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Show Data Validation Messages

Data Validation Messages

With the options available in data validation, you can display messages to give instructions to the people who use your spreadsheet. There are two types of data validation messages:

  1. An Input Message can be displayed when a cell is selected.
  2. input message

  3. An Error Alert can be displayed if invalid data is entered in a cell

error alert

Video: Create an Input or Error Message

To see the steps for creating an input message and an error message, watch this short video tutorial. The written instructions are below the video.

Create an Input Message

To help people know what data should be entered in a cell, you can set up an Input Message that is displayed when the cell is selected.

input message

Follow these steps to show a short message when a cell is selected.

  1. Select the cells in which you want to apply data validation
  2. On the Ribbon, click the Data tab, and click Data Validation
  3. (optional) On the Settings tab, choose the data validation settings
  4. Click on the Input Message tab, and add a check mark to Show input message when cell is selected
  5. input message on

  6. Type your message heading text in the Title box. This text will appear in bold print at the top of the message.
  7. Type a short message in the Input message box. Press the Enter key, to create line breaks, if you want them.
    NOTE:
    The limit is 255 characters
  8. input message and title

  9. Click OK or follow the steps below to add an Error Alert.
  10. Now, when you click on the cell, the Input Message will appear.

    input message

Input Message Size

Although there are 255 characters allowed in the Input Message box, the box has a maximum height and width, and all the characters might not fit.

NOTE: The size of the message box cannot be changed -- it is automatically set by Excel.

For example, in the message box below, there are 254 "i" characters, with an "X" at the end.

input message

However, in the message box below, there are 254 "W" characters, with an "X" at the end. Only 126 of the characters appear in full, and the remaining characters are cut off, or not visible.

input message

Input Message Position

In most cases, the input message pops below the cell, with the left edge of the message at the middle point of the cell's width.

input message below cell

If the cell is close to the right side of the Excel window, the right border of the input message will start at the Excel window border.

input message below cell

If there is not enough room below the cell, the input message appears at the right side of the cell, if there is enough room there.

input message at right side of cell

If there is not enough room below the cell, or to the right, the input message appears at the left side of the cell.

input message at left side of cell

If there is a comment in the cell, the input message appears below the cell, with the right edge of the message at the middle point of the cell's width. This can cause problems in column A, where there is no room at the left, and the data validation message is cut off.

input message with comment

Move an Input Message

When an input message appears, you can temporarily drag it to a different location on the worksheet.

  • The location is only temporary -- the message box will return to its original position, when you close and reopen the workbook.
  • ALL input messages on that worksheet will appear in that location, until the workbook is closed and reopened.

input message with comment

Create an Error Alert

When you add data validation to a cell, the Error Alert feature is automatically turned on. It blocks the users from entering invalid data in the cell.

You can turn Error Alert off, to allow people to enter invalid data. Or, change the type of Error Alert, by following the instructions below.

  1. Select the cells in which you want to apply data validation
  2. On the Ribbon, click the Data tab, and click Data Validation
  3. On the Settings tab, choose the data validation settings
  4. Click on the Error Alert tab, and add a check mark to Show error alert after invalid data is entered .
  5. Choose an Error Alert Style from the dropdown list.
    • Stop: This prevents the entry of invalid data.
      If the Retry button is clicked, the invalid entry is highlighted, and can be overtyped.
      If the Cancel button is clicked, the invalid entry is deleted, and the cell's original content is restored.
      The user cannot leave the invalid entry in the cell
    • Warning: This discourages the entry of invalid data.
      If the Yes button is clicked, the invalid entry is accepted, and the next cell is selected.
      If the No button is clicked, the invalid entry is highlighted, and can be overtyped.
      If the Cancel button is clicked, the invalid entry is deleted, and the cell's original content is restored.
      The user can choose to leave the invalid entry in the cell.

    • Information: This announces the entry of invalid data.
      If the OK button is clicked, the invalid entry is accepted, and the next cell is selected.
      If the Cancel button is clicked, the invalid entry is deleted, and the cell's original content is restored.
      The user can choose to leave the invalid entry in the cell.

  6. Type your message heading text in the Title box. This text will appear in bold print at the top of the message.
  7. Type a short message in the Error message box. The limit is 225 characters
  8. Click OK

Error Message Size

There are 225 characters allowed in the Error Message box, but size of the message box cannot be changed -- it is automatically set by Excel.

For messages that are more than a few words, press the Enter key, to create line breaks. Otherwise, the message box could be too wide to read easily.

For example, in the message box below, there are 225 characters, with a line break after every second group.

error message with line breaks

Here is the same message, with no line breaks. It is almost the full width of the Excel window.

error message with line breaks

Turn Error Alert Off

You can turn Error Alert off, to allow people to enter invalid data. For example, if the data validation cell contains a dropdown list, turn off the Error Alert to allow users to type items that are not in the list.

To turn off Error Alert:

  1. Select the cells in which you want to turn off Error Alert
  2. On the Ribbon, click the Data tab, and click Data Validation
  3. Click on the Error Alert tab, and remove the check mark from Show error alert after invalid data is entered

turn off error alert

Download the Sample File

Download a zipped Excel file with the data validation message examples.

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More Data Validation Tutorials -

Data Validation Basics
Data Validation - Create Dependent Lists
Data Validation - Dependent Dropdowns from a Sorted List  
Data Validation - Dependent Lists With INDEX  
Hide Previously Used Items in a Dropdown List
Data Validation - Display Messages to the User
Data Validation - Display Input Messages in a Text Box 
Data Validation - Use a List from Another Workbook
Data Validation Criteria Examples
Data Validation Custom Criteria Examples
Data Validation Tips
Data Validation Documentation
Data Validation Combo Box     
Data Validation Combo Box - Named Ranges
Data Validation Combo Box -- Click
Data Validation - Add New Items  

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