How to Set Up a Basic Excel Spreadsheet

A Microsoft Excel spreadsheet is an incredibly useful tool for sorting data, performing calculations and visualizing results with charts and graphs.
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A Microsoft Excel spreadsheet is an incredibly useful tool for sorting data, performing calculations and visualizing results with charts and graphs. Once you get started with a basic Excel workbook, it's relatively easy to begin creating spreadsheets with rows and columns of text, numbers, formulas and other types of data. Then you can move on to more advanced features like tables and charts. Learning how to use Excel can help you organize and gain more insight into your personal, home or business data.

Creating a New Excel Workbook

An Excel workbook stores multiple spreadsheets in a single file. When you open Excel, you are taken to the New panel to create a new workbook. You see a gallery of thumbnail images representing Excel spreadsheet templates, which are predefined workbooks designed for a specific purpose. Above the template gallery is a search field that allows you to search online for more templates.

Double-click on the Blank Workbook template to begin creating a basic workbook. A new workbook opens on Sheet1, the first spreadsheet in the workbook. At the left of the spreadsheet is a vertical row of numbers, and a horizontal row of letters runs across the top. These are the row and column numbers that are used to reference cells in the spreadsheet. For example, the first cell is referenced by the address A1.

Entering Spreadsheet Data

To begin entering data into the new spreadsheet, click in a cell and type a number or text. Press the Enter or Tab key to complete the data entry for that cell and move to the next cell. You can also add data to a cell using the Paste function.

In many cases, Excel detects that the data you're entering matches an existing pattern you've already typed in, and it automatically fills in cells for you. For example, if you have a list of dates, Excel may detect that you intend to type "October" when you enter the letter "O" and automatically fill in the rest of the word. If you don't like the auto-completion feature, you can turn it off in File > Options.

Using Built-In Excel Formulas

Excel has a large number of built-in formulas to help you perform calculations. One of the most common is the Sum function, which you use to add the values in a group of cells. First, select the cells with values you want to add by clicking on the first cell and using Shift+Click to select the last cell. All the cells between the first and the last chosen cell in either the horizontal or vertical direction are highlighted. Click on the Sum symbol on the Home tab. A formula that adds the selected cells is placed in the next cell after the last selected cell, and the result is displayed.

Finding an Excel Spreadsheet Tutorial

The Microsoft Office support website provides tutorials for many Excel features, including cell formatting, formulas and tables. After you master these basic concepts, you are ready for charts, pivot tables and other advanced features. The websites for many colleges and universities provide free Excel tutorials that you can find by entering "site:.edu excel tutorial" in the Google search field. Many tutorials include video training and PDF manuals that describe the Excel user interface and features in detail.

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