It is very easy to lose track when creating complex formulas in Excel. Since functions use parenthesis to wrap their arguments, you may end up in a position that you do not know which parenthesis belongs to which function. In this kind of situations, you need to pay attention to the color of the parentheses. In this guide, we’re going to explain color coded parentheses in Excel for an easy way to track formula creation.

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You might find yourself in a situation trying to figure out how many parentheses you need to use, and end up getting an error message like below.

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If you see a warning message like above, take a deep breath, and check the colors of the parentheses. Excel adds colors for the references of cells, ranges, or names inside formulas, and does the same for formula parentheses used in wrapping the arguments.

The coloring follows a simple rule – opening and closing parentheses have the same color code. Actually, there is a color order starting from black and continues with red. However, all you need to know is that the black color is the “master color” that wraps the outer most circle.

Tip: If you are not sure about how many closing parentheses needed at the end of a nested IF sequence, keep adding parentheses until you see a black colored one.

Another useful trick of Excel is that when you close a parentheses, both matching pairs of parentheses will be briefly bolded.

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You can also get the bold effect when moving the cursor with arrow keys. This is a helpful way to debugging a formula as well.

To learn more about identifying and analyzing spreadsheets, visit our Formula Auditing guide.

In summary, Excel offers some help when dealing with parentheses.Once you become accustomed to how this feature works, you will see that the color coded parentheses can be fairly useful when creating complex formulas.