Spreadsheets for Beginners

By Ty Arthur

Many organizations deal with large quantities of numbers or other information that isn't practical to deal with on paper. Computerized spreadsheets are an excellent tool for storing, interpreting and modifying many different types of information that an individual or company receives from clients or internal reports.


Paper spreadsheets have been used as business ledgers for decades, but computerized spreadsheets were not developed until 1969, when a program called LANPAR was created for Bell and AT&T to use for balancing their budgets. A program called Visicalc was the first spreadsheet developed specifically for a personal computer and was distributed for the Apple II in 1979. Although there are several major spreadsheet programs available for the personal computer today, such as Open Office and Lotus Symphony, the most popular for the Windows and Mac operating systems is currently Microsoft Excel.


A spreadsheet consists of a grid of rectangular rows and columns called cells in which you can input any alphanumerical character. Either the first column, first row, or both can be used as headers or identifiers and then the remaining portions of the grid can contain the specific information, such as a listing of prices or names.


Spreadsheet programs generally include extra features to further identify information or break up chunks of information into more easily readable groups. The most common features are those normally found in word editing programs such as underlining, adding in bold or italics, or changing the color of text or cells. The border thickness of specific cell ranges can also be changed to either remove the borders or make them much thicker for especially important data.


The main benefit of spreadsheet programs is their ability to modify the information contained in the cells. They have functions that allow numbers in the cells to be added, subtracted, multiplied, divided or put together to find an average. Most also sport additional features for creating grids or charts of the information for easy printing or showcasing the information in a presentation.


The Microsoft Excel spreadsheet has an extra programming feature called Visual Basic for Applications, which allows for even more functionality, such as automating specific tasks that need to occur repeatedly, calculating complex equations or even using information in the spreadsheet in other Microsoft programs such as Access or Outlook. Although using it requires learning parts of the programming language, Visual Basic can be an incredibly powerful tool that has a huge range of applications for both personal and business use