Uses of Spreadsheets

Spreadsheets provide invaluable tools for collecting and calculating data of all types. Beyond arithmetic, they can be formatted to create clear, concise reports and can be sorted and updated with the touch of a button.

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Although spreadsheets have been used for hundreds of years, the electronic version first appeared in 1978 with a program known as "VisiCalc." In the early 1980's, Lotus 1-2-3 appeared on the scene with Microsoft's Excel debuting a few years later. When Microsoft launched its Windows operating system in 1987, Excel was the first program released for it. "When Windows finally gained wide acceptance with Version 3.0 in late 1989, Excel was Microsoft's flagship product," writes D.J. Power in "A Brief History of Spreadsheets." "For nearly three years, Excel remained the only Windows spreadsheet program, and it has only received competition from other spreadsheet products since the summer of 1992."


You can create lists, from shopping lists to contact lists, on a spreadsheet. For example, if you entered store items to a spreadsheet along with their corresponding aisles, you could sort by aisle and print before your shopping trip. Your list would provide an aisle-by-aisle overview. The sorting power of spreadsheets becomes more evident when entering more data. Maintaining personal or professional contacts allows you to sort by every field. For example, a salesperson might enter all clients and then sort by zip code allowing him to plan his day with geographic efficiency.


Beyond sorting, spreadsheets are invaluable calculators. By entering the appropriate mathematical functions into cells, you can turn a simple spreadsheet into an accounting page. You can list credits in one column and debits in another. The auto-sum feature speeds calculations and can be set up to maintain running totals. And with the flexibility of spreadsheet programs, data used in equations can be anywhere on the sheet or in the workbook. Adding additional pages (sometimes called worksheets) allows you to organize information to suit your needs. Data from anywhere in the workbook can be used in your calculations.

Time Sheets

Besides adding and subtracting integers, spreadsheets can also perform those calculations on time-based numbers. Formatting cells to reflect data as a time (as opposed to simple integers) can allow you to use the spreadsheet as a time sheet. Additionally, you can include descriptions of assorted job functions, employee names, etc. giving you the ability to sort by those to time incurred for any of your chosen fields.

Database Use

Although spreadsheets are not true relational databases, they can be designed and formatted to function as simplified ones. For example, if you need to track pricing of a particular product, enter its price only one time. For all subsequent references to that price, point to the original entry as opposed to re-entering the price. When you need to change the price, change it in its original cell and all corresponding references will update automatically.

Chart Creation

Charts and graphs create better depictions of trends and percentages than raw numbers. As they say, "A picture's worth a thousand words." Spreadsheet programs can automatically convert your data into the visual depiction of your choice, whether it's a pie chart, bar chart or line graph.

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