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Excel Basics

A guide on using Excel for data entry, analysis and visualization.

Excel is a program for creating, processing, analyzing, and visualizing tables of data. Here are some basic concepts that are important for getting started with Excel.




A screenshot of an empty Excel spreadsheet.  The ribbon is at the top and runs across the entire screen.  The formula bar is under the ribbon; this is where you type in formulas. Column headers appear under the formula bar; each column is labeled with one or more letters.  When you click in a cell, it becomes the "active cell," which is highlighted with a green border.  Rows have row headers on the left; each row is labeled with a number. Finally, a series of tabs at the bottom indicate the different worksheets in the Excel file.


Excel functions are built-in formulas that perform specific calculations or actions on data in Excel. They are designed to simplify complex calculations, automate common tasks, and improve the accuracy and efficiency of data analysis. Excel functions can be used to perform a variety of tasks, including mathematical operations, date and time calculations, text manipulation, and more.

Excel functions can be accessed from the Formulas tab on the Excel ribbon or by typing the function name directly into a cell. Each function requires one or more arguments, which are values or references to data that the function uses to perform its calculation. After you click inside a cell to make it the active cell, you can type a formula into the formula bar.  Formulas begin with an equals sign ("=").

Here are some examples of common Excel functions:

  • SUM: Adds up a range of numbers.

  • AVERAGE: Calculates the average of a range of numbers.

  • MAX: Returns the maximum value in a range of numbers.

  • MIN: Returns the minimum value in a range of numbers.

  • IF: Evaluates a logical condition and returns one value if the condition is true and another value if it is false.

  • VLOOKUP: Searches for a value in the first column of a table and returns a corresponding value in the same row from a specified column.

  • CONCATENATE: Joins two or more text strings into one.

  • TODAY: Returns the current date.

  • NOW: Returns the current date and time.

These are just a few examples of the many Excel functions available. Excel functions can be combined and nested together to perform more complex calculations and tasks. Learning how to use Excel functions can help you save time and improve the accuracy of your data analysis.