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Basic things to learn in Excel

  • Published on July 20, 2022
Picture showing student learning basic things in Excel

There are basic things you should learn in Excel so that you can collect, sort and organize data. While Excel has many capabilities, here are the basic things you should learn in Excel to work efficiently:

  • Use the Excel tools

  • Add Headers and Footers to Excel sheets

  • Apply Conditional formatting in Excel

  • Create Formulas

  • Copy Formulas

  • Create Formulas with functions

We’ve gathered this list of basic Excel skills based upon our knowledge as Excel teachers, and the authors of several books on Excel, including official Excel curriculum. You can continue to read through the basic things to learn in Excel, or you may find free Excel tutorials  or Excel courses to be more efficient ways to gain in-depth experience using Excel.

Learning Excel tools

The first step to working in Excel is learning to navigate its interface. This tutorial can walk you through its tools, such as the quick access toolbar and ribbon, as well as the where to locate them. 

Additionally, you can learn to customize your interface to maximize efficiency. For example, an accountant might save a command that they frequently use in their quick access toolbar. Not only does this make it more accessible and easy to execute, it helps the accountant avoid syntax errors that can be made when manually typing commands.

Adding headers and footers in Excel

Before entering data into your spreadsheet, take a moment to learn how to customize your Excel layout in order to create an organized workspace that suits the needs of your project. This step is important for spreadsheets that are distributed as handouts. Because users can add titles, page numbers, and images to Excel spreadsheets, their data can be arranged and displayed in a way that works better for visual presentations.

Other formatting options include widening or narrowing margins, adding headers and footers, and changing the orientation of the spreadsheet. Although it may take some trial and error, this tutorial gives you an introduction to personalizing your Excel spreadsheets.

Using conditional formatting in Excel

Conditional formatting, one of Excel’s powerful data analysis tools, helps users identify patterns and trends within the data of their spreadsheets.This tutorial covers each of the five types of conditional formatting, as well as how to create a custom formatting rule. 

For example, if a financial analyst wanted to determine the number of high-cost transactions in their company’s expense report, they could create a custom formatting rule that would only identify cells with a value greater than or equal to a set dollar amount, such as $10,000.

How to create formulas in Excel

Whether you use a predefined formula or create a custom formula, Excel has wide-ranging computational abilities that can be tailored to any project. Many of these formulas utilize basic mathematical principles, such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. This tutorial teaches you how to create your own formula, as well as the syntax to follow. 

Additionally, Excel saves users time by allowing data from cells to be referenced in formulas. Say you are working with a spreadsheet of monthly expenses and want to see how much money you spent on ordering takeout. Rather than typing out each expense by hand, you can reference each cell that contains a takeout order expenditure in your formula (ex. =B6+B13+B20) in order to calculate the total.

How to copy formulas in Excel

For projects that require repetitive use of computations, this tutorial shows you how to copy a formula from one set of data and apply it to another. This can be done in a variety of ways, as the tutorial explains, and saves you time and effort.

While traditional copy and pasting can be used on formulas, you can also use the AutoFill feature to copy a formula to a range of adjacent cells. Results of an Excel formula can also be transferred to another cell or range of cells using the Paste Values and Cut and Paste commands, as well as by dragging and dropping the formula in a different location.

How to create a formula with a function in Excel

Advanced computations may seem intimidating to create in Excel, especially for complex data analyses. This tutorial walks you through the basic syntax for formulas that contain functions. While these elements are easy to confuse, formulas are created by users for specific tasks. Functions are predefined calculations are made available to all Excel users.

Some examples of functions are COUNT, which calculates the number of cells meeting a criterion input by the user, and SUM, which adds values together. Because it would be time consuming to memorize each function, you can access the Function Library to select a function or create one tailored to your computational needs.


About the author

Christopher Smith is president of American Graphics Institute in Boston, Massachusetts. He is the publisher and editor of the Digital Classroom book series, which have sold more than one million copies. At American Graphics Institute, he provides strategic technology consulting to marketing professionals, publishers and to large technology companies including Google, Apple, Microsoft, and HP. An expert on web analytics and digital marketing, he delivers Google Analytics classes along with workshops on digital marketing topics. He is also the author of more than 10 books on electronic publishing tools and technologies, including the Adobe Creative Cloud for Dummies. Christopher did his undergraduate studies the at the University of Minnesota, and then worked for Quark, Inc. prior to joining American Graphics Institute where he has worked for 20 years.