Excel Made Easy: Your Quick Start Guide

Welcome to the basics of Microsoft Excel!

Excel offers spreadsheets, formulas, and features for organizing and analyzing data. Excel has the tools you need to track expenses or prepare sales reports.

In this article, you’ll learn the fundamental elements of any spreadsheet. From entering data to creating basic formulas, you’ll be equipped to navigate the program confidently.

So let’s start, and you’ll soon realize that mastering the basics is easier than you think!

Getting Acquainted with Excel Interface

In this section, I’ll guide you through the basics of the Excel interface, so you can confidently start working with spreadsheets. I’ll cover everything from the Ribbon and Toolbar to the formula bar and navigation tips.

Ribbon and Toolbar

Most of Excel’s features and capabilities are in the Ribbon and Toolbar. The Ribbon contains tabs like Home, Insert, Data, and more, each offering a set of commands specific to that area. 

The Toolbar appears at the top of the screen and provides quick access to frequently used functions.

Excel ribbon and toolbar

The Formula Bar

The Formula Bar, located below the Ribbon and Toolbar, is where you can view, edit, and create formulas in Excel.

Formula bar

The Formula Bar displays the equation when you click on a cell containing a formula. This makes it to edit or understand. Using the Formula Bar will become second nature as you become more adept with Excel.

Navigation Tips

Navigating through Excel might initially seem daunting, but a few simple tips can make it much more manageable.

Use the arrow keys or the scrollbars to move around the spreadsheet. If you need to switch between worksheets, click the sheet tabs at the bottom or use Ctrl + PgUp/PgDn keyboard shortcut.

Sheet tabs

To quickly jump to a specific cell or area, press Ctrl + G (or F5) and enter the cell reference in the “Go To” dialog box.

Go To dialog box with cell reference

Finally, familiarize yourself with Excel shortcuts to save time while working on your spreadsheets. With some practice, you’ll navigate around Excel like a pro in no time.

Remember, learning Excel is a process, and mastering the basics of its interface is a significant first step.

Excel Workbook and Worksheets

Creating a New Workbook

When opening Excel, you’ll need to create a new workbook. A workbook is like a binder for all your related worksheets.

Think of it as a filing cabinet, where each drawer is a worksheet with different data sets or information.

To create a new workbook:

  1. Open Excel
  2. Click File
  3. Select New (Keyboard shortcut – CTRL+N)
  4. Choose Blank Workbook

Voila! You now have a new Excel workbook to start working with.

Understanding Worksheets

In a workbook, worksheets are the individual pages that hold your data. Each worksheet is a separate space for organizing data, performing calculations, and creating tables or charts.

You can add, delete or rename worksheets easily:

  • Add: Click the “+” icon next to the existing worksheet tabs.
Add new tab in Excel
  • Delete: Right-click on the worksheet tab, then click “Delete.”
  • Rename: Double-click on the worksheet tab and type the new name.

If you right-click on a tab, it will bring up a menu allowing you to perform all the same functions as above.

Go ahead and start adding your data to these worksheets! Practice makes perfect, so don’t be afraid to experiment with new features as you become more comfortable.

Data Entry and Formatting

Now let’s go through the basics of entering and editing data and formatting cells to make your spreadsheets more professional and visually appealing.

Entering and Editing Data

Entering data in Excel is as simple as clicking on a cell and typing the information you want to store there. Press Enter or click another cell to finalize your entry.

Excel data entry

Keeping similar items in the same column is essential to maintain a well-organized worksheet.

When copying and pasting data, use these easy copy-paste tips to avoid common mistakes.

Formatting Cells

You can format a specific cell or group using the cell formatting menu.

Cell formatting menu in Excel

Here’s a brief rundown going from left to right:

  • Font: You can change the font, size, style (bold, italic, underline), and color. You can opt for a bold, red font to make specific cells stand out.
  • Fill: This is how you can change the background color of your cells. It’s a great way to separate or highlight different data types visually. If you’re preparing a sales report, you can color cells with high sales numbers in green and low sales numbers in red.
  • Alignment: Here, you can adjust where your content sits within the cell. You can vertically align it (top, middle, bottom) or horizontally (left, center, right).

For a more extensive list of formatting options, click any cell, right-click, and choose “Format Cells.”

Why Bother with Formatting in Excel?

Improving the appearance of your workbook is crucial for clear and effective communication of information. Formatting your cells correctly helps your data stand out and become more digestible for your audience.

To change the look of your cells, try using time-saving formatting shortcuts that will enhance your productivity. Feel free to experiment with different formatting options, such as bold text, cell shading, or borders, to find the best combination.

Basic Functions and Formulas

Using Formulas

A formula in Excel is an equation that performs calculations on values in your worksheet. It’s like a command you give Excel to do some math.

A formula always starts with an equal sign (=). For instance, you write =B2+C2 in cell A1. This tells Excel to add the value in cell B2 to the value in C2 and display the result in A1.

Understanding Functions

Conversely, a function is a preset command in Excel (like a mini-program) built to carry out specific calculations. Functions are used within formulas.

They start with an equals sign, followed by the function name, and then any required arguments in parentheses. Excel follows the standard PEDMAS order of operations.

For example, =SUM(B2:C2) is a function. SUM is the function name, and B2:C2 are the arguments. The SUM function adds up the numbers in the range B2 to C2.

Excel has many functions, each designed for a specific task, such as SUM for adding numbers, AVERAGE for finding the average of a group of numbers, or COUNT to count cells with numbers in them.

Basic Excel Formulas

Some basic Excel formulas you should know include:

Financial functions make it easy to calculate net present values, internal rates of return, and more.

Debugging your formulas is essential to identify and resolve the issue. As you become more familiar with formulas, you can create custom calculations tailored to your needs, improving your productivity.

Sorting and Filtering Data

Excel is designed for large datasets (but not too big!). The power is in deciphering the data. So you’ll need to know how to sort and filter your data efficiently.

Sorting Techniques

One of the simplest ways to sort data is to use the “Sort A to Z” and “Sort Z to A” options in the Data tab.

Ascending Order: Select the cell in the column you want to sort, then click the “Sort A to Z” button.

Descending Order: Click the “Sort Z to A” button.

Sort function menu in Excel

Excel also allows you to sort by date, number, or alphabetic order. You can even sort multiple columns simultaneously using the “Custom Sort” option.

Filtering Options

Sometimes, you may want to narrow your dataset and focus on specific information. With Excel, you can easily filter your data to show only what you need.

To filter data:

  1. Click on any range of cells in the column you want to filter.
  2. Go to the Home tab, and click “Sort & Filter.” (image above)
  3. Now, you will see an arrow in the header of that column. Click it.
  4. Choose the criteria you want to filter by and click “Apply Filter.
Filter arrow on table

Boom! You have successfully filtered your data.

Remember, filters can be turned on or off or cleared entirely so that you can explore your data from various perspectives. Mastering sorting and filtering techniques in Excel will save you time and effort.

Creating and Customizing Charts

Selecting Chart Types

Choosing the right chart type is crucial to represent your data effectively.

Good news: Excel provides a feature called Recommended Charts, making it easy for you to find suitable chart options. Here’s how:

  1. Select the data you want to visualize.
  2. Click Insert > Recommended Charts.
  3. Browse through the suggested charts and pick the one that best presents your data.
Build a recommended chart in Excel

Remember, you can always explore all available chart types if the recommendations differ from what you’re looking for.

Formatting Charts

Now that you have your chart let’s polish it up! Pay close attention to:

  • Chart elements: Add titles, data labels, and more by clicking the buttons next to your chart or exploring the Chart Design ribbon.
  • Visual appearance: Make your chart stand out! Change colors, fonts, and styles using the Format tab when you click on a chart.
Chart design ribbon

By mastering these basic chart-creation steps, you’ll effectively convey your data and leave a lasting impression on your audience. Happy charting!

Using Conditional Formatting

Conditional formatting lets you automatically apply specific formatting to your data based on conditions. Let’s dive into creating rules and managing conditions for conditional formatting.

Creating Rules

Creating a rule is as simple as following these steps:

  1. Select the cells you’d like to apply rules to.
  2. Click on Home > Conditional Formatting.
  3. Choose your desired rule type from the dropdown menu (e.g., Highlight Cells Rules or Data Bars). In the example below, I have set the condition to highlight any figure greater than 10,000 to be shaded green.
Conditional formatting example

Once you’ve selected the rule type, you can customize it further by defining the conditions. For example, you could highlight cells with values greater or less than a specific number or identify duplicates.

Remember, you can also use a formula to determine which cells to format. For instance, to highlight cells that start with “Hello,” use =SEARCH(“Hello”,A1)=1 as the formula.

Managing Conditions

Sometimes you must manage multiple rules, such as changing their order, editing, or removing them. Here’s how:

  1. Select the cells with conditional formatting.
  2. Click on Home > Conditional Formatting > Manage Rules.
  3. In the Conditional Formatting Rules Manager, you’ll see all rules applied to the selected cells.
Conditional formatting dialog box

Now you can edit a rule or change the order by clicking the up and down arrows to control which rule has priority. To remove a rule, just select it and click “-.”

These basic steps will help you harness the power of conditional formatting in Excel. With some practice, you’ll enhance your spreadsheets and data analysis quickly!

Working with Tables In Excel

Creating a Table

To create a table, select the cell or range containing your data. Next, navigate to the Home tab and choose “Format as Table.

Pick a style that suits your taste, and in the Format as Table dialog box, check the box next to “My Table has headers” if your data’s first row contains headers.

Create a table in Excel

Your data is now presented in a sleek-looking table. Excel tables allow you to manage and analyze your data more efficiently. For advanced data analysis, you can even build a pivot table. Here’s the Excel Mac Pivot Tables version.

Table Features

Excel tables have various features that make your data management tasks a breeze. Here are some of the most useful ones:

  • Automatic resizing: Your table will conveniently grow or shrink as you add or delete data.
  • Filtering and sorting: Easily sort your data in ascending or descending order, and use filters to display only the relevant information.
  • Calculated columns: When you enter a formula in a table column, Excel automatically applies it to the entire column.

Remember, a well-structured table is the foundation for efficiently handling your data in Excel.

Final Thoughts

I know this post has a lot to digest, and I’ve only scratched the surface of Excel’s capabilities. 

Don’t worry. I explore each of these topics in much more detail across Excel Me – just use the search function if there’s something specific you’re looking for.

Alternatively, check out the Excel Me YouTube channel for additional tutorials.

Excel is a great skill to sharpen, and it will take practice. But I promise you it’s worth it – #WorkSmarterNotHarder!

Thanks for reading, and I hope you found this helpful!

Leave a Comment