Tracing Multiple Precedents & Dependents in Excel

4 minutes read
Last updated: May 31, 2024

One of Excel’s most critical features (and shortcomings) is the ability to trace cell dependencies. When you trace a cell’s precedents or dependents, you can see which cells are involved in its calculation or which cells are affected by its value. In this post, we will explore the native Trace Precedents and Trace Dependents tools in Excel, discuss their limitations, and then take a look at how Macabacus can save us significant amounts of time with tracing.

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Tracing Precedents & Dependents in Financial Models

In financial modeling, trace precedents and trace dependents are crucial for understanding the relationships between variables and formulas. Financial analysts can use these tools to quickly identify the source of errors in their models and ensure that all inputs and outputs are properly connected. This is especially important in complex financial models that involve numerous variables and calculations, where even a small error can have a significant impact on the overall results.

How to Trace Precedents in Excel

The Trace Precedents tool in Excel allows you to see which cells are involved in the calculation of a single selected cell. Here’s how to use it:

  1. Select the cell you want to trace precedents for.
  2. Go to the “Formula Auditing” group on the “Formulas” tab.
  3. Click on the “Trace Precedents” button ( or Ctrl + ] ). Excel will draw arrows to show the cells that are used in the calculation of the selected cell.
  4. If the cell has multiple precedents, you can use the “Trace Precedents” button again to trace the precedents of the precedent cells.
  5. To remove the arrows, click on the “Remove Arrows” button in the “Formula Auditing” group.

Read how to trace multiple precedents, instead of cell-by-cell.

How to Trace Dependents in Excel

The Trace Dependents tool in Excel allows you to see which cells are affected by the value of a selected cell. Here’s how to use it:

  1. Select the cell you want to trace dependents for.
  2. Go to the “Formula Auditing” group on the “Formulas” tab.
  3. Click on the “Trace Dependents” button ( or Ctrl + [ ). Excel will draw arrows to show the cells that are affected by the value of the selected cell.
  4. If the cell has multiple dependents, you can use the “Trace Dependents” button again to trace the dependents of the dependent cells.
  5. To remove the arrows, click on the “Remove Arrows” button in the “Formula Auditing” group.

Read how to trace multiple dependents, instead of cell-by-cell.

Limitations in Excel

Auditing Multiple Precedents & Dependents in Excel Now, while these tools are useful, Excel only allows you to trace the active cell (i.e., one cell at a time), which is a significant limitation in terms of efficiency. Let’s now look at how Macabacus can help with tracing precedents and dependents in Excel.

 

 

 

Macabacus Show All Precedents / Show All Dependents Tool

One of the features that sets Macabacus apart from native Office functionality is its ability to trace and audit cell precedents and dependents. 

To access the Macabacus auditing tools, look for the “Trace” drop-down in the Macabacus ribbon. Here, you’ll find tools to help you trace and navigate precedent and dependents. This is critical functionality for auditing formulas and navigating precedents / dependents efficiently.

Macabacus Show All Precedents and Show All Dependents Tool

To trace all precedents using Macabacus, use our Show All Precedents and Show All Dependents Shortcuts. These tools make it easy to quickly trace and identify all precedents or dependents on a selected range of cells. 

A key advantage of the Macabacus tracing tools vs. the native Excel functionality described above, is the ability to show all precedents or dependents for a selected range of cells, not just a single cell at a time.

Macabacus's Show All Dependents Shortcut in Excel

This can be particularly useful when you’re considering deleting a section of an Excel file. By using the Macabacus Show All Dependents shortcut, you can quickly check if there are any dependencies that would be affected by the deletion. Once you’ve addressed all your dependencies, you know it’s safe to delete those cells. This is a useful check to avoid unintentional #REF errors upon deletion. 

 

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