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How to Use Excel

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Microsoft Excel is an advanced spreadsheet analysis tool which allows you to perform complex analysis and manipulation of a variety of types of data. Excel can be used by beginners who just need some basic functionality as well as advanced users looking to access highly sophisticated automation tools and functions for analyzing large sets of data.

Finding Your Way Around the Excel Interface

As of the 2007 addition, Excel no longer uses the menu and toolbar system – instead the commands are grouped within tabs on the "ribbon." The ribbon is a horizontal menu bar which expands across the top of the screen. Depending on which tab you have selected on the ribbon, you will see a variety of menu commands which are organized by functional groups. (For example if you select the "Page Layout" tab of the ribbon you will see commands related to margin settings, page breaks and printable area.)

To reduce the amount of clutter on the screen, some commands are only shown when they are needed. For example, there are a number of commands related to formatting pivot tables or charts – these commands will only be visible when a pivot table or chart is currently selected.

Common Tasks

Most beginning and intermediate users of Excel will focus mainly on the basic numerical and text functions available in the software. Excel’s numerical functions allow you to perform basic mathematical operations on the cells in your work sheet, such as summing them, finding an average, or counting the number of entries in a given range.

Text functions that may be useful to the beginner would include the "CONCATENATE" function which allows you to join the text values of two or more cells and combine them into a single cell. (This might be useful for example if you wanted to combine a cell containing a first name with a cell containing a last name, to arrive at the full name in a single cell.) Other text based functions will allow you to trim unnecessary characters such as extra spaces and generally manipulate the character values of your data as your needs require.

More Advanced Excel Uses

Advanced users of excel will certainly find that there is limitless potential for business applications. Excel contains some very sophisticated tools to manipulate and analyze data, such as pivot tables and advanced modeling techniques such as the Monte Carlo simulation and solver functionality.

In addition to the inherent toolset available to advanced users, there is a robust programming language included in Excel (Visual Basic for Applications) which will allow you to perform operations of almost limitless complexity. VBA allows knowledgeable users to write standalone applications that are built on top of the Excel platform.

As you can see, learning how to use Excel does not have to be overly complicated. A basic overview of the interface and functionality will help the beginner user get up to speed quickly, while advanced training will unlock the full potential for experienced spreadsheet jockeys.



Did You Know?

Microsoft Excel is one of the most often used tools for running and managing a business. It's not just for accountants either!