A Beginner’s Guide to How Excel Works

When it comes to digital spreadsheets that help businesses accomplish tasks, Excel is among the most reliable options. This guide aims to explain how Excel works.

Microsoft’s Excel is wildly popular. 

Strike that. It’s insanely popular. SO popular that it’s hard to figure out many people actually use it. 

Back in 1996, Microsoft published a news release stating that more than 30 million people used Excel, making it the most popular spreadsheet of all time. (It’s an open question as to how many people actually knew how Excel works.) 

Today, there are an estimated 120 million Excel users and another 1.2 billion people that might use Excel through their use of Microsoft Office. 

You too can join that happy throng. Here are the basics about how Excel works. 

The Principles Behind How Excel Works

Excel is all about storing, organizing, manipulating and pulling meaning from data. 

That sounds like a lot. Don’t worry. We can break it down even further. 

The program is a spreadsheet app. We use spreadsheets to organize and store information in alphabetized columns and numbered rows. Excel is packed full of features to help you get information organized the way you want and in a format that makes sense to you. 

It also helps you identify patterns in the information. Using that information, you can display those patterns in graphs or charts. 

The Files

Excel can use several different file formats. The two more common types are the Microsoft-unique .xlsx and the more universally accepted .csv format, with .csv standing for comma-separated values. For the latter, information is stored in a serious of lines where data are separated by commons and lines are separated by return characters. 

Excel displays that file in need and tidy gridlines. But if you opened the same file with certain programs a line of data might look like this: “65, red, MxPx, Cincinnati.”

The Sheet

This is where the magic happens. This is really how Excel works for you. 

Each sheet is made up of columns and rows. The area where columns and rows intersect are called cells. Cells are like rooms that contain information. 

Across the top of the sheet, you will see a bar that looks like a search form. It’s not. It’s the formula bar. There, you can use basic math to create new information by referencing other info on the sheet. You also use a who cornucopia of built-in functions to manipulate data. 

Your programmer friends may use something similar when they refer to the Net ExcelLibrary

Storing and Sharing

To save an Excel file, you’ll click the symbol in the top left corner that looks like a floppy disk. 

If you know what a floppy disk is, great! If you don’t know what a floppy disk is, you can have a seat at the kid’s table at Easter dinner. You can just click “File” and then “Save” or “Save As.”

When you’re just starting to learn how to use Excel, you’ll want to make it a habit to save early and often. This can prevent a lot of heartbreak in the event something happens to your file. 

Excel files, on the whole, are usually fairly small and don’t take up a lot of storage space. That means you can save a lot of different files. But be sure to also save files with meaningful names in a spot on your computer that you will be able to easily find in the future. 

Getting Started

Most Microsoft computers come with at least a trial of the Mircosoft Office suite of products. If you don’t have the full program, you can set up a free Microsoft account and work with a lighter version of Excel through the OneDrive application. 

ShaderTech is here for anyone at any level, regardless of whether you do or don’t already know how Excel works. You can learn more by browsing a few more of our tech articles.