How to Use Excel

Getting Started

When you first open Excel, you’ll see a blank worksheet with cells organized into rows and columns. Each cell can contain text, numbers, or formulas. Here’s a brief overview of the main parts of the Excel interface:

  1. Ribbon: The ribbon is the horizontal menu at the top of the Excel window. It contains tabs, such as “Home,” “Insert,” “Formulas,” and “Data,” each of which contains various commands and tools for working with your spreadsheet.
  2. Worksheet Area: This is the main area where you’ll enter and edit data. Each worksheet consists of a grid of cells organized into rows and columns.
  3. Formula Bar: The formula bar is located above the worksheet area and displays the contents of the currently selected cell. You can use the formula bar to enter or edit data and formulas.
  4. Name Box: The name box is located next to the formula bar and displays the address of the currently selected cell or range of cells.
  5. Cell: A cell is the intersection of a row and a column and is where you enter data or formulas.

Entering and Formatting Data

To enter data into a cell, simply click on the cell and start typing. You can enter text, numbers, or dates. To format the data in a cell, use the options in the “Font” group on the “Home” tab. You can change the font, font size, font color, and apply bold, italic, or underline formatting.

Performing Calculations

Excel is particularly powerful for performing calculations and analyzing data. You can use formulas to perform mathematical operations, such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, as well as more complex calculations. Here are some common tasks you can perform:

  1. Basic Arithmetic: To perform a basic arithmetic operation, such as adding two numbers, type an equal sign (=) into a cell, followed by the formula (e.g., =A1+B1).
  2. Sum Function: The SUM function allows you to add up a range of cells. To use the SUM function, type “=SUM(” into a cell, then select the range of cells you want to add up, and close the parentheses (e.g., =SUM(A1:A10)).
  3. Average Function: The AVERAGE function calculates the average of a range of cells. To use the AVERAGE function, type “=AVERAGE(” into a cell, select the range of cells you want to average, and close the parentheses (e.g., =AVERAGE(A1:A10)).
  4. Max and Min Functions: The MAX and MIN functions return the largest and smallest values in a range of cells, respectively. To use the MAX or MIN function, type “=MAX(” or “=MIN(” into a cell, select the range of cells, and close the parentheses (e.g., =MAX(A1:A10)).

Working with Formulas

Excel allows you to create formulas that reference other cells, perform calculations, and manipulate data. Here are some important things to know about working with formulas:

  1. Relative and Absolute References: When you create a formula that references other cells, Excel uses relative references by default. This means that if you copy the formula to another cell, it will adjust the references relative to the new location. You can use absolute references to keep a reference constant by adding a dollar sign ($) before the column letter and row number (e.g., $A$1).
  2. AutoFill: Excel has a feature called AutoFill that allows you to quickly fill a series of cells with a pattern or sequence. To use AutoFill, click and drag the fill handle (the small square at the bottom-right corner of the selected cell) or double-click the fill handle to fill down or to the right.
  3. Error Checking: If Excel detects an error in a formula, it will display an error indicator (a small green triangle) in the upper-left corner of the cell. You can click on the error indicator to see a description of the error and possible solutions.

Creating Charts

Excel includes a variety of chart types that allow you to visualize your data. To create a chart, follow these steps:

  1. Select the data you want to include in the chart.
  2. Click on the “Insert” tab in the ribbon.
  3. Click on the type of chart you want to create (e.g., column chart, line chart, pie chart).
  4. Excel will insert the chart into your worksheet, and you can customize it further using the options in the “Chart Tools” tab that appears when the chart is selected.

Sorting and Filtering Data

Excel allows you to sort and filter your data to make it easier to analyze. To sort your data, select the range of cells you want to sort, click on the “Data” tab in the ribbon, and then click on the “Sort” button. You can choose to sort by one or more columns in either ascending or descending order.

To filter your data, click on the “Data” tab in the ribbon and then click on the “Filter” button. Excel will add dropdown arrows to the headers of your data, which you can use to filter the data based on specific criteria.

Using PivotTables

PivotTables are a powerful tool in Excel that allow you to summarize and analyze large amounts of data. To create a PivotTable, follow these steps:

  1. Select the range of cells you want to include in the PivotTable.
  2. Click on the “Insert” tab in the ribbon.
  3. Click on the “PivotTable” button.
  4. Excel will display the “Create PivotTable” dialog box, where you can choose where to place the PivotTable and which fields to include.
  5. Click “OK,” and Excel will insert a blank PivotTable into your worksheet.
  6. You can then drag and drop fields from the “PivotTable Field List” to the rows, columns, and values areas to summarize your data.


Excel is a powerful tool for organizing, analyzing, and visualizing data. By familiarizing yourself with the basics of Excel, you can take advantage of its many features to work more efficiently and effectively with your data. This guide has covered the basics of entering and formatting data, performing calculations, creating charts, and using some of the program’s more advanced features. With practice, you can become proficient in using Excel to manage your data and make informed decisions based on your analysis.