Microsoft Excel: Let’s Get Started

What is Microsoft Excel?

Before the advent of computers, accountants diligently penciled in data on columnar pads, designed with as many as 13 columns and 40 rows per sheet. If one sheet couldn’t hold all the data, the accountant used a second sheet, and then a third, etc. The data in each column and row was usually subtotaled on each sheet, with a grand total at the end of the entire document. When a number had to be changed, the accountant would painstakingly re-add, re-subtotal, and re-total the row and column that held the revised number. Accountants penciled in their data and used up a lot of erasers.

Spreadsheet software revolutionized the process. Spreadsheets are documents laid out in rows and columns. One worksheet on Microsoft Excel can store 16,384 columns and 1,048,576 rows of data. It can be used to add, subtract, divide, multiply, average, count, create charts, and perform many more functions, some of which are highly complex. Best of all, if you change a number, the totals update automatically.

Microsoft Excel is the spreadsheet program most commonly used in business today. Companies use Microsoft Excel to prepare profit and loss statements, budgets, balance sheets, statistical analysis, etc. However, spreadsheets are also an incredible tool for individuals who need an easy way to prepare personal budgets, track investments, record expenses, balance checkbooks, keep lists which can be automatically sorted (rearranged), etc. It is a user-friendly software package. Once you understand the structure of spreadsheets, you will discover that keeping records can be an enjoyable process. You may find yourself volunteering to keep your club’s or organization’s records simply because you can do it easily and well. Let the fun begin!

How to Get Microsoft Excel

Microsoft Excel is part of the Microsoft Office software suite. Microsoft Office also includes Microsoft Word (a word processing program) and Microsoft PowerPoint (a slide presentation program). Microsoft Professional includes Excel, Word, PowerPoint, as well as Microsoft Outlook (an e-mail program), Access (a data base program), and Publisher (a program used to create signs, newsletters, etc.). The Microsoft products are designed to work together to create and combine letters, charts, mailing lists, etc. Individuals who are proficient in all the Microsoft Office products and who can produce professional integrated documents are prized by industry. Most personal computers now come equipped with Microsoft Office.

If your computer did not come with Microsoft Office you can subscribe and download Microsoft Excel and the rest of the Microsoft Office programs at

Opening Microsoft Excel

How do you start the Excel spreadsheet program? The first step is to open the Start menu. The Start menu is accessed through the button, displaying the Microsoft Windows logo, called the START button, located in the lower left of your desktop screen. The Start menu contains the option ALL PROGRAMS or APPS which includes a list of all the available programs on your computer. To display the list, position your mouse arrow directly on top of the ALL PROGRAMS option. The ALL PROGRAMS option will become highlighted in blue. Click your left mouse button and the computer will display a list of programs you can access. There are so many programs on the computer that a scroll bar will be displayed on the right side of the programs list. Use the scroll bar to locate the option MICROSOFT OFFICE. A small yellow folder will be located on the left side of the MICROSOFT OFFICE option. The yellow folder symbol indicates there are more options located within the folder. In the list, find the MICROSOFT OFFICE folder. Highlight the MICROSOFT OFFICE folder with the mouse and click the left mouse button. The list of Microsoft Office programs will be displayed. Locate the option MICROSOFT OFFICE EXCEL in the new list. It will have a green X symbol in a square next to its name. Place your mouse arrow on top of the MICROSOFT OFFICE EXCEL option. It will become highlighted in blue. Click your left mouse button. The menu will disappear and a blank Excel spreadsheet will be displayed.

Opening Microsoft Excel: Step by Step Instructions
  • Click the START button to open the Start menu.
  • Click the ALL PROGRAMS option.
  • Click the MICROSOFT OFFICE option.
  • Click the MICROSOFT OFFICE EXCEL option.
Microsoft Excel Screen Layout

Microsoft Excel is now open on your computer screen. Before you start typing data, take a moment to look at the basic layout. Look at the Title Bar of the program window. It is a bar at the top of your open screen/window. The title bar will read “Book1-Microsoft Excel.” “Book1” is the generic name given to a blank spreadsheet. If you open another new blank spreadsheet, it will be assigned the name “Book2.” The words Book, Workbook, or Spreadsheet are used interchangeably to describe a file created using Microsoft Excel. When you save the book for the first time, Excel will ask you to give the spreadsheet a new name. After completing the save process, the new name you selected will be displayed in the title bar of the Excel window.

Located just below the title bar is the ribbon. The top of the ribbon contains a group of tabs which allows you to change the options being displayed on the ribbon. The ribbon has eight different tabs: Home, Insert, Page Layout, Formulas, Data, Review, and View. If you look just below the tabs, you will see an area filled with tiny symbols and pictures. These tiny symbols and pictures make up the remainder of the ribbon. Each symbol on the ribbon represents a different function of Microsoft Excel. As you can see, Microsoft Excel has the ability to perform many different tasks. As this book progresses, we will review many aspects of this ribbon.

Under the ribbon is the Quick Access Toolbar. This bar displays buttons which work independently of the ribbons. The Quick Access Toolbar contains the Save button, the Undo typing button, and the Repeat typing symbol (commonly called the Redo button). If you make an error, you can simply click the Undo button and your latest instruction to the computer will be undone. This incredibly useful button will be discussed in more detail later in this section.

Overview of the Ribbon

The tabs located at the top of the ribbon control which symbols are displayed on the ribbon. If you place the mouse arrow on top of the Insert tab and click the left mouse button, a new set of symbols which support the Insert process, will be displayed on the ribbon. If you click on the Page Layout tab, another set of symbols, relating to the Page Layout, will be displayed on the ribbon, and so on. In summary, the different tabs help categorize the numerous functions of Microsoft Excel.

You can select any option located on the ribbon by placing your mouse pointer over the desired option and clicking the left mouse button once. When you position the mouse pointer over an option, it will become highlighted in orange. If you hold the mouse steady, without moving, a small balloon will appear, giving you the name of the option and providing a brief description of its use. To make the selection, just click the left mouse button and the action will be performed. At the bottom of the ribbon are category titles which give you a hint of what a particular set of options does.

Using the Ribbons: Step by Step Instructions
  • Click a ribbon tab (example: The HOME tab).
  • Move the mouse arrow over the ribbon.
  • Place the mouse arrow on top of the desired option.
  • Click the left mouse button.
Summary of the Ribbon Functions: File Tab
  • Save & Save As – Creates a permanent copy of your workbook
  • Open – Opens a previously saved workbook
  • Close – Removes the workbook currently active on the screen
    Info – Gives details on the Properties, Permissions, Sharing, and versions of the current workbook
  • Recent – Lists recently opened workbooks
  • New – Creates a new, blank workbook
  • Print – Prints a copy of the workbook
  • Save & Send – Saves the workbook and then sends it out via email
  • Help – Opens a Help window for getting Excel tips and helpful data
  • Options – Opens an Options window listing all the tools and options available in Excel and gives you the opportunity to change them
  • Exit – Closes all the open Excel workbooks and turns off Excel
Summary of the Ribbon Functions: Home Tab
  • Clipboard – Cut, Copy, Paste, Format Painter
  • Font – Font, Font Size, Bold, Italicize, Underline, Color, etc.
  • Alignment – Alignment, Merge, Change Indent etc.
  • Number – Type of Number, Dollar, Percent, Increase/Decrease Decimal Point, etc.
  • Styles – Overall cell formatting using predetermined settings
  • Cells – Insert, Delete, Format
  • Editing – Sum, Sort, Find, Replace, Select
Summary of the Ribbon Functions: Insert Tab
  • Tables – Insert a Table
  • Illustrations – Pictures, Clip Art, Shapes, etc.
  • Charts – Insert a Chart and other Chart options
  • Sparklines – Insert Sparklines into a cell to show trends
  • Filter – Insert an interactive filter called a Slicer
  • Links – Hyperlink
  • Text – Word Art, Text Boxes, Signature Lines, Date, Time, Etc.
  • Symbols – Inserting Equations or Symbols
Summary of the Ribbon Functions: Layout Tab
  • Themes – Change the overall design of the document including colors, fonts, and effects
  • Page Setup – Margins, Page Orientation, Breaks, Print Area, etc.
  • Scale to Fit – Width, Height, Scale
  • Sheet Options – Guidelines, Headings
  • Arrange – Bring to front, align, etc.
Summary of the Ribbon Functions: Formulas Tab
  • Function Library – Insert Function, AutoSum, Functions grouped by type
  • Defined Names – Define Name – a name is shorthand that makes it easier to understand the purpose of a cell reference, formula, etc.
  • Formula Auditing – Trace Precedents, Trace Dependents, etc.
  • Calculations – Calculation options
Summary of the Ribbon Functions: Data Tab
  • Get External Data – Import data options
  • Connections – Create and edit connections to external data sources that are stored in a workbook
  • Sort & Filter – Ascending/Descending Sort and Filter options
  • Data Tools – Text to Columns, Consolidate, etc.
  • Outline – Group, Ungroup, Subtotal
Summary of the Ribbon Functions: Review Tab
  • Proofing – Spell Check, Thesaurus, etc.
  • Language – Translate the workbook into a different language
  • Comments – Add/delete/show comments on the spreadsheet
  • Changes – Track your revisions to the document and restrict other people from making specified changes to the document
Summary of the Ribbon Functions: view Tab
  • Workbook Views – Normal, Page Layout, Page Break Preview, etc.
  • Show/Hide – Gridlines, Formula Bar, Headings
  • Zoom – Magnify or Shrink pages
  • Windows – Open New Window, Freeze Panes, Split Window, Tile All Windows on the Screen, etc.
  • Macros – Macro options
Using the File Tab

The left-hand side of the File tab contains twelve different topics. Notice that some topics such as NEW and PRINT are larger than the others. When you click on one of the larger options, a carat appears to the right of the option. This carat indicates that there is more information related to this topic heading. Clicking the option will cause the rest of the information to appear in the right pane of the File tab. In this example, place your mouse arrow on top of PRINT. PRINT will be selected and a preview of the document will appear to the right of the pane/ribbon.

Once the additional information has appeared, move your mouse arrow on top of the desire option and click the left mouse button one time to activate the selected option. In this example, move your mouse arrow on top of the option PRINT. It will become highlighted. Once PRINT is highlighted, additional options will appear to the right of the pane. Click on the options you would like to change. Since, at this point, we are only using the PRINT option as an example, click the HOME ribbon to exit the print screen.

Using the “Formula” Bar

Located below the Quick Access Toolbar is another bar containing the Name Box and the Formula Bar.  The Name Box displays the position of a selected cell.  The Formula Bar shows the details of any data contained in a cell.  As you enter data into a cell, the Formula Bar will display what you are typing.  Immediately below the Formula bar is the Excel Work Area, displaying a blank spreadsheet where you will enter your data.

Using the Worksheets Tabs

At the bottom of your workbook is another bar which contains the worksheet tabs and a scroll bar.

Each workbook (Excel document) is divided into worksheets (commonly called spreadsheets) which can be used to separate your data into sections. The worksheets start with the generic names of Sheet1, Sheet2, and Sheet3. Take a look at the worksheet tab named Sheet1. The Sheet1 tab has a white background indicating that Sheet1 is the active sheet. The active sheet is visible on screen at the present time, waiting for you to enter data. The tabs for Sheet2 and Sheet3 are light blue, indicating that they are inactive. Position the mouse pointer over the Sheet2 tab and click the left mouse button one time. The Sheet2 tab will turn white, and the Sheet1 tab will turn light blue. Sheet2 is now the visible/active worksheet. You can enter data on multiple worksheets and use the worksheet tabs to switch easily from one sheet to another. You will learn how to rename the worksheets, add additional worksheets, and link data contained on multiple worksheets later in this guide.

Switching Worksheets: Step by Step Instructions
  • Position the mouse pointer over the desired worksheet tab located near the bottom left side of the Excel window.
  • Click on the left mouse button and the corresponding worksheet will be displayed on the screen.
Using the Worksheets Scroll Bars

To the right of the worksheet tabs is the horizontal scroll bar. The horizontal scroll bar is used to move your screen to the right and left (horizontally). When you are working on a large spreadsheet, you will not be able to see all the columns and rows on the screen at one time. The number of columns and rows you can see depends upon your screen size, settings, and the length of the data contained in the cells. You should be able to view approximately 12 columns and 24 rows on a blank worksheet. You can view the data which is not visible on the screen by using the scroll bar. By moving the horizontal scroll bar, you will be able to see the remaining 16,362 columns available on the Excel worksheet.

To the far right side of the Work Area is the vertical scroll bar. The vertical scroll bar enables you to move the viewing area of the worksheet up and down (vertically) to display additional rows of the worksheet. The vertical scroll bar provides the means to view the remaining 1,048,532 rows available on the current worksheet.

Review of the Spreadsheet Layout
  • Title Bar – displays the name of the currently active workbook.
  • Ribbon – contains pictures/icons used for easy access to the options/features of Excel including Formatting, Copy, Paste, Insert, Insert Function, etc.
  • Quick Access Toolbar – A customizable bar containing frequently used feature buttons.
  • Name Box – displays the selected cell’s position.
  • Formula Bar – displays the details of the data you have entered into the selected cell.
  • Work Area – contains the cells in which you can enter data.
    Worksheet Tabs – separates your data into sections (each spreadsheet initially has three worksheets).
  • Horizontal Scroll Bar at the bottom of the worksheet – moves your screen to the right and left so that you can see data that is outside of the screen viewing area.
  • Vertical Scroll Bar on the right side of the worksheet – moves your screen up and down so that you can see data that is above or below the screen viewing area.