What Is the Purpose of Using a Spreadsheet?

By Aurelio Locsin

A spreadsheet is a computerized table consisting of individual cells arranged into rows and columns. Information can easily be entered into, modified at, and deleted from the cells. Though in previous years, several spreadsheet programs competed for market share, the clear winner today is Microsoft Excel, which is available for both the PC and the Mac.

Displays

A spreadsheet displays text and numbers in a table, making the relationships among information easy to understand. Different fonts, borders, colors, and pictures can further enhance viewing. For example, a spreadsheet can highlight alternate rows and columns of an address list to make the phone number of a particular person easier to spot.

Automatic calculation

Formulas and functions can quickly and automatically calculate solutions, making it convenient to try various scenarios of complex problems. For example, the monthly payments by the varied interest rates and plans of different mortgage companies can all depend on the loan amount. Changing the amount automatically recalculates all the payments.

Graphing

A jumble of numbers often hides a trend that is visible only in the graphics of a pie, column, bar, line, area, bubble or cylinder chart. You can control the chart's color, fonts and graphics to help you make a decision about the trend. For example, the daily fluctuations of a stock price makes it hard to spot a trend looking at the numbers alone. However, when charted over time, the prices may move in a definite upward or downward direction.

Consistency

Dialog boxes, forms, and programmed constraints can enforce consistency among all entries, especially when they are made by different people. For example, a spreadsheet can accept information only entered through a form on a dialog box. This form only accepts phone numbers entered as 10 consecutive digits falling within a certain range. Once entered, the number is automatically formatted with an area code in parentheses, followed by a three-digit prefix, a dash and then a four-digit number.

Sorting and filtering

A spreadsheet processes and displaysneeded information by sorting and filtering entries according to established criteria. (Unnecessary information is never deleted but rather hidden from view). For example, an address list might include only those customers who spent between $5,000 and $10,000, sorted by zip code.

Transfering information

To prevent entering text that already exists in electronic form, a spreadsheet can easily import and export information in various formats. For example, if you wanted to chart the sales information stored in a word processing document, first export that file into a text file. The spreadsheet can then open that file directly. If you wanted to later put the pie chart you created onto a website, you can save the entire chart as a web page.