How to Use Formulas in Excel Spreadsheets

by Stephanie Ellen

Excel formulas, or functions, are operations you can place into cells to perform a variety of accounting, mathematical, business-related and other procedures on your data. Formulas mean that you don't have to perform tedious operations, such as totaling columns by hand or figuring out budget totals. Excel can do it all for you with a command or two. Whether you are using Excel 2003 or 2007, you can type formulas directly into a a cell or into the formula bar at the top of the spreadsheet.


Decide which formula you want to use. For a list of commonly used formulas, visit Microsoft's Commonly Used Formulas Web page and browse for the formula you need (see References). For example, if you want a formula to add numbers in a cell, click on "Math: Add Numbers," then "Add Numbers." The how-to shows you that to add two numbers, you use the "+" operator.


Click on a cell where you want to add a formula.


Type "=." All Excel formulas begin with an equals sign.


Type your formula. For example, type "=5+10" to add 5 and 10. As you type, Excel will offer suggestions about what it thinks you are trying to type. For example, if you've typed "=SU," Excel will list several options, including "=SUBTOTAL" and "=SUM." Click on the formula you want to use, and Excel will insert the formula into the cell.


Press "Enter." Excel will calculate the result from the formula and enter it into the cell.


  • check Some formulas call for you to insert cell references. Enter the cell reference separated by a mathematical operator or comma, depending on what you are trying to accomplish. For example, the SUM function can add multiple cells together. The format is "=SUM(cell1, cell2)," where "cell1" and "cell2" are the reference numbers for the cell (for example, a1, a2 or a3).

About the Author

Stephanie Ellen teaches mathematics and statistics at the university and college level. She coauthored a statistics textbook published by Houghton-Mifflin. She has been writing professionally since 2008. Ellen holds a Bachelor of Science in health science from State University New York, a master's degree in math education from Jacksonville University and a Master of Arts in creative writing from National University.

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