Two-level Data Validation [Excel Trick]

Here is a super easy and fun way to create two-level data validation list within Excel. Something like this? In this article, learn how to easily create such two or multi-level drop down lists using Excel.

two level data validation drop down excel

Two-level data validation drop down – video

If you want a video with all these steps (and some bonus tricks), check it out below. For text explanation with images, just read on.

Download Sample File – Two-level Drop Downs

Click here to download the sample file used in this example. Play with the data or formulas to learn more.

Step 1: Set up your source data

You need data in this format for this two-level drop down technique.

data validation input data

Step 2: Make a pivot table in outline layout

Insert a pivot table from your validation data in outline format with level 1 and level 2 in row labels area. Turn off any grand totals and sub-totals. You will get this.

pivot table for two level drop down

Related: Introduction to Excel Pivot Tables

Step 3: Formulas to get the two-level structure

Now, just refer to pivot table items to generate two-level structure.

We need two formulas. Both are simple to write.

The first one is IF formula

The logic is simple.

  • If state column is not blank, get that value
  • Else, if City is also not blank, prefix 5 spaces to city value and return that.
  • Else return FALSE

The below formula works for me.

=IF(J27<>””,J27,IF(K27<>””,REPT(” “,5)&K27))

My Pivot table is from J27.

Drag this formula down for 50 rows or whatever is the size of your data.

Filter formula to exclude all FALSE values

This next formula will just remove any FALSE values in our 50 cell range. We can use FILTER for this.


Note: My IF formulas are in the range O27:O76.

Here is an illustration explaining both of these formulas.

formulas for two level data validation - explained

Related: Filter & other Dynamic Array functions new to Excel 

Step 4: Set up the validation rule

We are done people… Just select the cell where you want the two-level data validation drop down to appear and use Data ribbon > validation button. 

Set up the validation type as “list” and use the spill range as list. For example, in my workbook, the filter formula is in cell P27, so DV list is $P$27#

data validation setting - spill range

Cherry on top: Conditional formatting to flag errors

Our two level validation is already yummy, but if you want a cherry on top, use conditional formatting to flag errors when user picks “level 1” item instead of “level 2” item.

Something like this:

How to set up the conditional formatting rule for this:

  • In the adjacent cell to the validation cell, write an IF formula that would return ✔ or ❌ with a message.
  • Color the cell in Red.
  • Now apply conditional formatting rule on the cell to turn the color to GREEN if it is ✔

Related: Introduction to Excel Conditional Formatting

Whipped cream on top: Box drawing shapes + validation

Instead of 5 spaces, you can use box drawing shapes like ∟⊢ to create an impress tree structure. Something like this:

box drawing shapes with validation list

Download Sample File – Two-level Drop Downs

Click here to download the sample file used in this example. Play with the data or formulas to learn more.

More tips on data validation

If you are looking for ways to spice your data validation, you’ve come to right place.

  • Create awesome data entry forms with validation + conditional formatting
  • Mixing lookups with validation
  • Make cascading drop downs in Excel
  • Remove duplicates in data validation list

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