Excel Tutorial for Beginners

by Carol Luther

Microsoft Excel software combines several functions in one powerful package. You can create budgets and expense estimates, using formulas that automatically recalculate your totals when you make changes. You can display financial data in graphs, charts and pivot tables that make it easier to analyze. Excel also has database functions that you can use to track inventory, your CDs or books, and other lists. Most people start with spreadsheet functions, then progress to more advanced tasks.

Excel Worksheet Features

When you open Excel, you will automatically have a workspace ready for data entry. The 2007 version has text menus along the top of the screen. Clicking any of the menu options reveals a set of buttons related to that function. Like other Office 2007 products, you will also find important commands under the round, multicolored Office button at the top left side of the screen. Each row in an Excel worksheet has a number and each column has a letter. The individual spaces within a worksheet are cells. Every cell has a name that combines its row and column position in the worksheet. The row just above the first numbered row in an Excel worksheet is the Formula Bar. At the left, it displays your cursor position, using the cell name. You will also see the contents of every cell next to its name in the Formula Bar on the right. When you are creating formulas, Excel displays each element in the Formula Bar as well.

Entering Data

Excel allows you to enter numbers (values) or text (labels) in any cell. You can choose whether to place all of your labels across a single row or down a single column. You can also use a combination of rows and columns if your data requires it. Excel does not perform calculation on cells that contain text; however, you can exclude those cells when you create a formula. If you were preparing a simple monthly budget, you could list the categories, such as utilities, transportation and groceries in one column. Then you could enter the numerical data for each item in an adjacent column. For an annual budget, you might also enter labels for the twelve months in the year across the top row of your worksheet.

Create Formulas

Users have several ways to create formulas in Excel. After you enter numerical data, place your cursor in an empty cell under, beside or near your numbers. You can click the "Autosum" button to complete a simple calculation to total a series of numbers that do not include empty cells or labels. This icon resembles the Greek symbol for E. You will find it at the top right corner of the "Home" menu. When you use this method, Excel highlights all of the cells in your column or row, and places the total in the worksheet at your cursor position. To build formulas that require other arithmetic, you will place your cursor in an empty cell, then start your formula by typing the equal sign (=). Click a cell that you want to include in your formula, then type the addition (+), subtraction (-), multiplication (*) or division (/) sign. Choose the next cell and type any operator that you need, until you have all of the data for the formula. Press "Enter" to put the formula into the worksheet. Excel also allows you to build formulas using functions like Average, Count, Date and Round, among others. Click the "Formulas" menu to select functions that you need for formulas that are more complex.