Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date



Spreadsheet programmers often implement contingent logic using a nested-IF formula even though this technique is difficult to test and audit and is believed to be risky. We interpret the programming of contingent logic in spreadsheets in the context of traditional computer programming. We investigate the “lookup technique” as an alternative to nested-IF formulas, describe its benefits for testing and auditing, and define its limitations. The lookup technique employs four distinct principles: 1) make logical tests visible; 2) make outcomes visible; 3) make logical structure visible; and 4) replace a multi-function nested-IF formula with a single-function lookup formula. It can be used only for certain simple contingent logic. We describe how the principles can be applied in more complex situations, and suggest avenues for further research.


Presented at 10th annual EuSpRIG spreadsheet risks conference on July 2-3, 2009 in Paris, France.