What Are the Benefits of Spreadsheets?

By Jackie Lohrey

One look at the range of free templates available for Microsoft Excel, Google Docs and OpenOffice Calc shows that spreadsheets are useful to home and business users of all skill levels. An underlying benefit, no matter how you use them, is the relative ease with which you can turn raw data into useful information.

Calculation and Error-Handling Capabilities

The built-in calculators, formulas and functions in spreadsheets save time and improve mathematical accuracy. You can also use formulas and functions to manipulate text strings. For example, you can separate first and last names from a full name or find and replace words or characters in a string with another word or set of characters. Formulas can link and instantly update cells in the spreadsheet should the value of a cell change. If you do make a mistake, built-in error-handling capabilities flag and provide information about the incorrect cell value.

What-if Scenarios

Spreadsheets support basic and advanced data modelling, which can benefit both home and business users. A home user might create a basic what-if scenario to see how changing a single variable, such as the price of gasoline or food, will affect their budget. A business user might benefit more from a complex scenario that shows how changing more than one variable affects a break-even or profit-volume-cost analysis. Advanced data modelling techniques, such as pivot tables and charts, are useful for sorting and summarizing data without changing the original data layout.

Formatting and Styling

Spreadsheets come with a range of presentation and formatting options that not only improve readability, but also make it possible to use the data in external reports and presentations. Styling options allow you to change fonts, font sizes, background and text colors and cell borders to create a neat look. Print options allow you to define a specific print area and print all or a specified portion of a spreadsheet. Graph and charting options are useful for displaying data in a report or a slideshow presentation.

Connections and Program Compatibility

Spreadsheets have features that permit you to get and use data, text and image files from other sources, as well as share data with word processing, email, database and presentation programs. You can use a contact information spreadsheet to create form letters in a mail merge or export spreadsheet data to a database program. A variety of save options means you can use spreadsheets with more than one company’s software. For example, save options mean you can use an Excel spreadsheet in an OpenOffice program and use an OpenOffice Calc program in a Microsoft Office program.